While his debut for Racing Metro was not a flawless affair, there were enough positives in what Jonny Sexton did to offer encouragement for the season ahead. The 28-year-old was as sharp as ever in attack but will be disappointed with his place-kicking and one defensive error. Racing finished 19-14 winners in their relocated home fixture at the Stade Marcel Deflandre in La Rochelle.
In a Racing side that is clearly still in the process of getting accustomed to playing together, Sexton was excellent in possession. The Lions outhalf took the ball to the line as threateningly as usual, asking questions of the Brive defence before passing to forward runners inside and outside. He also carried the ball himself on occasion and looked strong in contact. Sexton’s habit of running with the pill in two hands at all times was unsettling for Brive’s defence, who were unsure which option the Irish man was going to take.
Jamie Roberts is still rehabilitating the hamstring injury he picked up while playing for the Lions this summer, but the sooner he is back the better for Sexton. While Fabrice Estebanez and Henry Chavancy are both good centres, they are not yet comfortable with Sexton. At times against Brive, the outhalf was screaming out for a centre to come steaming down outside him on a direct line. Estebanez and Chavancy will begin to recognise the cues in Sexton’s attacking body language with more regularity as they play together more often, but Roberts would definitely help at this early stage.
Racing enjoyed the better of the opening exchanges, with scrumhalf Maxime Machenaud’s powerful sniping making particular gains. From one such scurry the Parisians got onto the front foot and a phase later, Sexton took a smart linking pass from flanker Antoine Battut. Faced by a Brive defence rushing up, Sexton stroked a perfectly weighted diagonal kick out to the left, in behind Guillaume Namy. Racing wing Virimi Vakatawa had read the play but a high bounce of the ball went over his head. However, fullback Benjamin Lepeyre had followed up and he gathered to score.
That impressive contribution was part of a superb kicking game from Sexton. Clearing out of Racing’s 22, the outhalf managed to get thumping distance on his touch-finders, admittedly aided by a breeze. Sexton’s contact with the ball was superb and it was encouraging to see him striking spirals with such confidence.
In defence, Sexton was solid, although he did make an error for Brive’s try. After Racing had been split up the middle, they managed to scramble and get themselves into a decent defensive position in their own 22. When Brive moved the ball wide to the left, Sexton, the last defender, shot out of the line but failed to take man and ball. That allowed lock Julien Ledevedec to get in behind Sexton and give the scoring pass to winger Elia Radikedike. While it was not an ideal defensive position to be in, Sexton could have done better.
Saturday wasn’t Sexton’s best day from the tee. Three from six won’t have been satisfactory for the outhalf, who demands so much of himself. The three missed kicks were certainly within his usual capabilities. After converting Lepeyre’s try from under the posts and then scoring from a penalty in a similar position, Sexton missed two penalties before half time. The first was from 45 metres out but directly in front of the uprights, while the second was 10 metres closer but at a similar angle.
In the 50th minute, Sexton converted an easy effort from underneath the sticks but two minutes later missed with a 40 metre effort, once again from a central position. That was the Irishman’s last major contribution to the game as he was replaced by Jonathan Wisniewski five minutes later. Racing’s reliable French outhalf kicked two penalties from two to close out the win for Racing in what was a poor spectacle overall.
There were many encouraging aspects to Jonny Sexton’s first game in a Racing shirt, but he will need to take every single point on offer against Toulon on Friday night.