Racing 92 36-26 Leicester Tigers: Leicester recover some of their old form but fall short against French superstars
The day after the wearers of yellow vests ran riot in central Paris, any fears Leicester might show a yellow streak in their visit to Racing's mind-bogglingly quirky indoor stadium in the north-west of the French capital were put to bed. Still, Leicester will probably need to win all three of their remaining pool matches, starting with the return fixture at Welford Road next Sunday to maintain an interest in this season's European Cup.
While never looking like winning in this loss by five tries to four, Leicester produced patches of impressive rugby, and it was a particular joy to see Manu Tuilagi looking very close to his old self: ducking and surging and consistently getting past opponents' shoulders. If Leicester could consistently select a back-five backbone to their pack, the demons of a perilous domestic Premiership position, with far too many tries conceded week after week, may yet be sent from the door.
Read more: Geordan Murphy will bring honest approach to coaching Leicester Tigers
Nevertheless this was an 11th loss in 15 matches in all competitions, and the seventh on the spin since Tigers beat Scarlets in the previous of Europe in mid-October, and it has not created a sense of permanence around Geordan Murphy, the interim head coach since Matt O'Connor‘s early-season sacking. One report on Sunday had former Tigers player Paul Gustard, now in charge at Harlequins, as a target for Leicester. The notion was swiftly rubbished on social media by Leicester's chief executive, Simon Cohen, but the cast of coaches listed by the financially-powerful Racing highlighted how Tigers' roster looks under-manned and short on wider experience.
Murphy said post-match: “The [Leicester] board have been really good. They've said they'll give us whatever support and help we need. We want to do our due diligence, to have a look who we could get in, who would be the right fit for us. I'm really happy with my coaching team. We're conceding tries but I think my defensive coach Brett Deacon is doing a great job and he's giving the right messages. The players are saying it's on them, they're not doing the things they've been asked to do and practice. There's a been a lot of heat there but if we can support any of our coaching team – myself included – and bring quality people into our environment to make the club better, then I'm all for it.”
Racing, the losing European finalists to Saracens in 2016 and Leinster last season, offered dynamic handling combined with forward grunt, and wonderfully lairy promotion on their unique stage wedged into Paris's business district – artificially turfed and with an entire end given over to the biggest of big screens, all 2400 square metres of it. The team line-ups had Racing's players on the screen grinning and brushing down their blazers with club ties askew. Behind the other set of posts was a bar area with sofas and table-football games. It felt like a cross between a rock-concert arena and the largest one-screen cinema of the 1970s. Choc ice, anyone?
Tigers fight back, but Racing pull away
Racing's rock-star rugby came from the one-handed passes of Leone Nakarawa in the forwards and sashaying of Finn Russell at fly-half. And when Tuilagi was shown a yellow card for a deliberate knock-on after seven minutes, Racing led 12-7 in his absence with tries by Virimi Vakatawa and Juan Imhoff replied to by Jonah Holmes, Leicester's Wales full-back who later went off with concussion.
George Ford and Matt Toomua came close to matching Racing's lavish distribution – the Englishman and the Aussie can certainly play a bit. But the gap had stretched to 26-14 by half-time, with Racing tries by Irish wing Simon Zebo and flanker Baptiste Chouzenoux for the bonus point, and a leap over the line for Leicester for No.8 Sione Kalamafoni.
Then Racing lost their talismanic prop Eddy Ben Arous after a heavy tackle from Kalamafoni, and Leicester's totem, Tuilagi, skipped in at the right-hand corner for the visitors' third try, from a break up the left by Jonny May and a long pass from Ford and neat offload by Mike Fitzgerald.
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A second yellow card to Leicester's England prop Ellis Genge for slowing Racing possession gave Russell, the Scot, a penalty for 29-19 after 48 minutes, soon improved by a try for centre Olivier Klemenczak made by Russell's diagonal break.
Back came Leicester, as Genge returned with a 40-metre rampage, and a possibly valuable bonus point was grabbed by Adam Thompstone after Ford's clever, quick line-out. Rumours continue to circulate that Leicester's senior players are agitating for new coaches. What we do know is the return fixture with Racing is a must-win match at Welford Road next Sunday.
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