Tag Archives: Racing Metro

We Need to Talk About… Metuisela Talebula

Talebula

Talebula scored a wonderful try in UBB’s 31-25 win over Toulouse last weekend. (c) UBB.

Toulouse were on the attack, 30 metres from UBB’s tryline and with a 9-6 lead, when Clément Poitrenaud’s attempted offload went to ground. Talebula was onto it in a blink, toeing the ball 20 metres ahead and burning past the panicking Poitrenaud. Talebula won the race by a clear metre and gave the ball a second, more delicate touch with his left boot.

The hulking figure of Joe Tekori began looming over his shoulder, but Talebula calmly nudged the pill a third time with his right foot, by now just six metres from the Toulouse tryline. The ball struck the right-hand post, bouncing into Talebula’s expectant hands as he dived over to score.

For the ever-improving Metuisela Talebula, the outcome was never in doubt.

His close control makes sense when you learn that the 22-year-old had a spell at centre back for the football team at Drasa Secondary School in his native Lautoka, Fiji. His rugby career began with the Lautoka Crushers under-9s rugby league team, before he switched to union at the age of 16. Talebula won the Deans Trophy (Fiji’s premier schools competition) in 2009 and 2010, while also being chosen as Fiji Secondary Schools Player of the Year in ’09.

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Having already played both league and union, it was in the third rugby code that Talebula first garnered international attention. His form in sevens competitions for the Natabua Rugby Club resulted in a call-up to the Fiji squad for the IRB London and Edinburgh sevens tournaments in May 2011. Having excelled at flyhalf, Talebula was named in Fiji’s U20 squad for the Junior World Championship the following month. Playing at fullback, outhalf and centre, the Lautoka man scored three tries in four starts.

The versatile back’s name (Talebulamaijaini in full) began to get around and Clermont, through their Nadroga academy in Fiji, invited him to France to view their facilities and partake in training. Following that brief experience, Talebula decided to sign a deal with the Fijian sevens set-up for the 2011/12 season and helped them to second place in the IRB World Sevens Series. The flyhalf scored 25 tries and finished second in the individual points-scoring charts with 271.

Racing Metro tracked the Fijian intently for some time and Clermont still had interest, but Talebula eventually signed his first professional 15-a-side contract with a far less renowned club. In June 2012, his move to Union Bordeaux-Bègles was announced, with Talebula telling the Bangkok Post, “I’m still 21 and have a long way to go in my rugby career, so I have decided to play overseas as it will help me develop the way I play. The level of competition there will make me a better rugby player.”

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Earlier in the same month, the 6ft 1ins pace merchant had made a sensational start to his senior international career, scoring three tries in two appearances against Tonga and Scotland. Lining out at fullback, Talebula displayed the explosive running style and awareness that would make him such a success in France. Three more starts at fullback have followed for Fiji against England, Ireland and Georgia last November. There are many more caps to come.

Talebula’s first season with UBB was undoubtedly positive. Language and other cultural adjustments were mirrored by a bedding-in period on the pitch but after scoring in his seventh appearance the Fijian didn’t look back, ending the season with eight tries. Talebula mainly played on the wing, although he did start thrice at fullback. UBB’s backs coach Vincent Etcheto sees his future at outside centre.

Despite a physically taxing first season with Bordeaux, Talebula decided to join the Fiji squad for the Rugby World Cup Sevens in June. Reinstalled at flyhalf, he was the tournament’s top try-scorer with seven in six games, as Fiji finished in third place. Talebula’s sevens background and his positional versatility point to the rounded skill set he has developed.

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Many Fijian backs are pure finishers, with Napolioni Nalaga a fine example. While Talebula is certainly lethal close to the tryline, there is more to his game. His kicking skills are complemented by excellent offloading ability and piercing vision. Defensively, he does not shirk responsibility and will only improve in this area as his French does too. Timid off the pitch, Talebula must work on his communication during games.

The year in France has seen the 22-year-old become more efficient athletically. Talebula has filled out to nearly 100kg but has retained his natural leanness. He always had speed but now his stride is that of a sprinter’s, streamlined and methodical. Ludovic Loustau, UBB’s préparateur physique, has taken Talebula’s raw physical potential and begun to shape it into something even more potent. The Fijian’s attitude and hard work have been to key to progress.

Upon joining UBB, the Lautoka native signed a two-year espoir contract (similar to a development contract). That deal expires next June and the likes of Toulouse, Clermont, Toulon and Leicester have already cast lustful glances in Talebula’s direction. However, his agent Frédéric Bonhomme told Midi Olympique that the Fijian is “attached to Bordeaux-Bègles and likes the atmosphere there. He knows it’s not a small club. It’s a club of great potential. Extending [his contract] is a genuine option.”

If UBB can uphold the standard they set against Toulouse last weekend, Talebula may consider staying. However, the graceful Fijian will be ready for bigger things by next season and the money men will come calling. UBB’s supporters should appreciate the Talebula show before it moves on.

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Photo: UBB.

Jonny Sexton Debut Analysis

RogSexton

“Just kick the f*ckin’ thing, will ya?”

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.

RacingTry

Click the pic to enlarge. Top left) Sexton lines up the kick in behind Namy. Top right) the ball bounces but the back spin takes it over Vakatawa. Bottom left) Lepeyre follows up to claim possession. Bottom right) And scores under the posts.

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.

BriveTry

Click to enlarge. Top left) Brive move the ball out to the left and Sexton shoots up. Top right) Sexton buys Ledevedec’s dummy and doesn’t go for the hit. Bottom left) Ledevedec gets in behind Sexton and draws Szarzewski. Bottom right) The lock passes for Radikedike to run in unopposed.

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.

Top 14 Preview: Racing Metro

376_logo_racing_metro92.jpg,auto,630,405,90

The History

Racing Metro 92 was originally founded as an athletics club in 1882. Their list of honours includes five French championships (1892, 1900, 1902, 1959 and 1990), a Pro D2 title (2009), and one Coupe de l’Espérance (1918). For more on the club’s history, including the legendary Le Show Bizz generation, have a read of this article which featured on The Touchline back in February.

The Setting

Part of Jacky Lorenzetti’s ambitious plans for Racing include the building of a brand new stadium in Paris. However, construction work on the 40,000-seater Arena 92 has been continually delayed due to protests and funding issues. It now looks like work will start early in 2014, with the aim of being complete in late 2016. Racing’s current home is the 14,000-capacity Stade Olympique Yves-du-Manoir, known simply as Colombes to local supporters.

While there’s lots of history at Colombes, it is not the most attractive of stadiums, with the running track around the pitch an unwelcome feature. Lorenzetti likes to relocate some of les ciels et blancs home games, their first fixture of this Top 14 season being a prime example. With many Parisians still on holiday in mid-August, the home tie against Brive will be played in La Rochelle. Additionally, Racing’s H Cup fixture against Harlequins in round three will take place in Nantes’ Stade de la Beaujoire.

Last Season

Racing

A nine-game winning streak in the second half of the season helped Racing to sixth place in the Top 14 regular season table, before they lost to Toulouse in the play-offs. (c) Emilie Manchon.

Under Gonzalo Quesada les Racingmen had a rocky start to last season, before finishing strongly in sixth to qualify for the barrages phase of the play-offs. The return of outhalf Jonathan Wisniewski at the turn of the year launched Racing on a nine-game winning streak. In the play-off game Racing never truly looked like beating Toulouse, losing 33-19. The Parisians had trouble scoring tries all season, with their total of 32 the third-lowest in the league. The sheer firepower they have brought on board should be enough to remedy that.

Realistically, making assumptions about Racing based on last season would be foolish with so many new players involved, as well as the new coaching team.

Ambitions

Trophies, trophies, trophies. After six years of building the club into Top 14 mainstays under Pierre Berbizier and Quesada, it is time for Racing to start competing for silverware. The Parisians’ budget is now in line with the likes of Toulon and Clermont in the region of €27 million, allowing them to recruit spectacularly this summer. Lorenzetti understands that les deux Laurents need time to combine the ingredients into a championship-winning side, but he will also expect the club to compete in the Top 14 and Heineken Cup this season.

The Coaches

Laurents

Travers (left) and Labit have not encountered anything approaching failure in their shared coaching career so far. (c) Emilie Manchon.

Laurent Travers was a hooker with Brive when they won the Heineken Cup in 1997, while Laurent Labit was a fullback for Castres’ championship-winning side in 1993. The pair first came together at Montauban in 2004, leading the club from the Pro D2 to H Cup qualification in just four seasons. Castres signed them in 2009 after finishing in 12th the season before. Toto and Lolo‘s impact was superb as they made the play-offs in each of the fours years since, culminating in their shock Top 14 win last season.

The two Laurents have a reputation as being technically excellent and working closely with their players on specific rugby skills rather than simply selecting and motivating the team. Labit and Travers feel they work better as a duo as it allows them to interact with more of the squad on a day-to-day basis, while also giving the players two channels to communicate through. The new Racing coaches are very focused on the power of a strong group, which should work well with such a large number of new players.

Transfer Activity

La Star. (c) Emilie Manchon.

Racing have 15 new players in their squad this season, which is well balanced by the departure of 20. Jonny Sexton is obviously the star signing, but fellow Lions Jamie Roberts and Dan Lydiate aren’t far behind. Northampton’s propping duo of Brian Mujati and Sione Tonga’uiha are also part of the influx and may be the most important additions of all in a league where the scrum has a near-religious importance. Springbok second-row Juandré Kruger makes up the group of truly high-profile newcomers.

Beyond that, Racing have a new trio of French internationals in Adrien Planté, Marc Andreu and Wenceslas Lauret. Planté won his first two caps in June at the age of 28 after a slow-burning career on the wing for USAP. Andreu may not be the biggest winger, but his low centre of gravity and footwork make him a real try-scoring threat. He was part of Castres’ Top 14 success last season and has scored two tries in six French caps. Lauret joins from Biarritz, where the flanker had lost momentum after winning three international caps.

The remaining six new faces include back-up players like Georgian loosehead prop Davit Khinchagishvili from Brive and fullback Benjamin Lapeyre from Toulon, as well as some youthful promise in scrumhalf Laurent Magnaval.

Key Players

Szarzewski

Le Capitaine. (c) Emilie Manchon.

Dimitri Szarzewski is Racing’s captain despite only having joined at the start of last season from neighbours Stade Français. The 30-year-old hooker took over the leadership from Jacques Cronjé during the campaign after impressing with his work-rate and magnificent hair. At fullback, Juan Martín Hernández (31) is not the athlete he once was but ‘El Mago’ still has the vision and creativity that gave him that nickname. He will certainly look forward to playing outside the excellent passing of Sexton.

Scrumhalf Maxime Machenaud had a poor tour for France in New Zealand this summer, but remains important to Racing. The 24-year-old is surprisingly powerful for his size and at his best provides unfussy service to his outhalf. Perhaps the most impressive thing about les ciels et blancs‘ squad this season is its depth, giving the two Laurents the possibility to rotate their team and choose different players for varying tactical approaches.

Fijian no. 8 Sakiusa Matadigo is an intelligent player, whereas ex-captain Cronjé is all brawn. In midfield, Jamie Roberts’ explosiveness can be combined with the defensive leadership of Fabrice Estabenez or the energy of Henry Chavancy. Out wide, Andreu and Planté must compete with the magic feet of Juan Imhoff, the power of Benjamin Fall and the flair of Virimi Vakatawa. Behind Mujati and Tonga’uiha in the propping depth charts are French internationals Eddy Ben Arous and Luc Ducalcon, the experienced Khinchagishvili and one-time Munster man Julian Brugnaut.

Irish Connection

ROG and Sexton

The two lads have this one well under control. Allez Racing! (c) Emilie Manchon.

Sexton is the star attraction at Racing, and he looks made for the challenge. While it is true that French clubs approach play-off games conservatively, the regular season games are generally quite open. That will suit the Irish outhalf, who has so many talented players around him to conduct. As with any high-profile foreign player in France, the expectations on Sexton will be hugely demanding but the 28-year-old’s mental strength will allow him to overcome any teething problems.

Ronan O’Gara appears to be settling into his first coaching job with ease. His primary role is to work on kicking with Racing’s first team, but it is likely that he will also aid Labit in organising the backline. Kicking from hand is one of the weakest skills in the French game currently and O’Gara’s work in Paris will be closely followed by the other Top 14 clubs. For both Irishmen, an exciting and challenging season lies ahead.

Possible Starting XV

15. Hernandez, 14. Fall, 13. Chavancy, 12. Roberts, 11. Andreu, 10. Sexton, 9. Machenaud, 8. Matadigo, 7. Le Roux, 6. Lydiate, 5. Kruger, 4. Van der Merwe, 3. Mujati/Ducalcon, 2. Szarzewski, 1. Tonga’uiha/Ben Arous

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The excellent photos used with this article are all the copyrighted work of Emilie Manchon. You can see more of her photos of Racing on her Flickr page.

First Week Completed for Sexton

Sexton

Sexton attacks under the watchful eye of Laurent Labit at Racing Metro’s training centre in Plessis-Robinson. (c) Emilie Manchon.

Jonny Sexton completed his first week of training with Racing Metro today, having been omitted from the club’s opening friendly of the summer last night. The Ireland outhalf’s pre season schedule got underway on Monday, before an interview with Le Parisien, a popular daily newspaper, was published on Tuesday morning. Sexton took the chance to explain his reasons for joining Racing, as well as underlining that there was more to his decision to join the club than just the high wages on offer.

Racing had an open training session on Tuesday afternoon, which followed a more intense run-out behind closed doors earlier in the day. That afternoon, Sexton was involved in his first press conference as a Racing player, where he fielded questions about settling in Paris, his ambitions and his views on the Top 14. The remainder of the week involved a heavy pre season programme alongside fellow Lions Jamie Roberts and Dan Lydiate. Coaches Laurent Labit and Laurent Travers wisely decided not to involve the trio in yesterday’s 14-6 loss to Toulon.

Sexton may play next Friday though, when Racing face Harlequins in a money-spinning exhibition game in Geneva. That contrasts greatly with how Mike Phillips is being eased in back at Bayonne. The Welshman is expected to miss the club’s first two Top 14 games, before re-entering the fray on the 31st of August against USAP. Conversely, Sexton is likely to be start Racing’s opening league fixture against Brive in La Rochelle on the 17th of this month. Racing have moved the game away from Paris due to the number of the locals who will still be on holidays.

Sexton is the type of player who likes to play as many games as possible, so he will have no problem being involved so soon after the Lions tour, but it could be five months down the line before he starts to feel the true effects of a relatively short break. That said, Racing president Jacky Lorenzetti isn’t paying Sexton to rest and in a year when the Top 14 will to be more competitive than ever, every single game is of importance.

Racing suffered defeat in their first game under the new coaching duo against Toulon, but that will cause no great concern. In what was a surprisingly hard-hitting encounter on the Mediterranean coast, the home side scored two penalty tries, with both converted by Jonny Wilkinson. Racing’s only response was two penalties from the boot of outhalf Jonathan Wisniewski. The Frenchman is a good option for les deux Laurents, but will almost certainly need to get used to playing back-up.

For Sexton, the first week is over. The hard work starts again on Monday and by this time next week we may have seen the 28-year-old in Racing’s sky blue and white jersey for the first time. The French adventure is underway and off to a good start.

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Photo: Emilie Manchon.

Racing Ready for Sexton

Picamoles, Johnston, Nyanga, Albacete, Burgess

Racing take on Toulouse in tomorrow night’s play-off. The Parisian outfit have lost both meetings with the current holders this season. (c) Pierre Selim.

In February, I wrote a piece detailing Racing Metro’s history and recent form. For anyone who’s not too up-to-date on how Racing have developed since billionaire Jacky Lorenzetti bought the club in 2006, it’s certainly worth starting there. In this article, I take a look at how Les Ciels et Blancs have fared in the second half of the current campaign.

Racing’s season up to the mid-way point hadn’t been particularly smooth sailing. Knocked out of the H Cup at the pool stages, and suffering from inconsistency, the Parisian club were 8th in the Top 14. One of the major problems in the first half of the season had been the lack of a leader in the outhalf position. Previous incumbent Jonathan Wisniewski had been struggling with injury, and neither medical joker Olly Barkley nor young hopeful Mathieu Belie could fill in convincingly in his absence.

However, the return of France ‘A’-capped Wisniewski at the turn of the year coincided with a huge surge in form. From the 30th of December, with a 40-6 win over Agen, right up until the end of March, Racing went on a nine-game winning streak. With Wisniewski back at 10, Gonzalo Quesada’s team finally clicked. The outhalf has been taking almost every point on offer, and Racing’s confidence was obvious to see in excellent wins at home against Clermont and away to Montpellier.

Olly Barkley

After arriving as a medical joker, Barkley struggled to make an impact. He has left the club and is now being heavily linked with Grenoble for next season. (c) Pierre Selim.

That winning run was ended dramatically by Toulouse, thanks to a Lionel Beauxis conversion with the last kick of the game. Regardless, Racing have qualified for the Top 14 play-offs. Last weekend’s win over Castres ensured Le Racing finished the regular season in 5th, just one point off 4th-placed Castres. What it all means is that Lorenzetti’s club visit Toulouse tomorrow night in the barrage phase of the play-offs. A semi-final against Toulon awaits the victor.

Regardless of what happens in the knock-out stages, Racing have qualified for next season’s Heineken Cup, which will certainly come as a relief to Jonny Sexton. A first year spent playing in the Amlin Challenge Cup would have been anti-climatic. For rugby fans worldwide, it means more excitement. While Racing’s transfer activity remains unconfirmed by the club itself, it appears that Lorenzetti has bankrolled a remarkable bunch of additions for next season.

Midi Olympique, the French rugby newspaper, is reporting the following players to Racing as done deals: Sexton, Springbok lock Juandre Kruger, Welsh internationals Dan Lydiate and Jamie Roberts, Northampton props Brian Mujati and Soane Tonga’uiha, France flanker Wenceslas Lauret, Castres wing Marc Andreu, and Perpignan wide man Adrien Planté. That’s all on top of the capture of Castres’ excellent coaching duo of Laurent Labit and Laurent Travers.

Six Nations Player of the Tournament, Dan Lydiate. Wales Grand Slam Celebration, Senedd 19 March 2012 / Dan Lydiate, Prif Chwaraewr Pencampwriaeth y Chwe Gwlad, Dathliadau Camp Lawn Cymru, Senedd 19 Mawrth 2012

Wales and Lions blindside will be joining Sexton in Paris next season. (c) National Assembly for Wales.

Racing appear to be waiting until their playing season is over to officially announce the signings. These additions will elevate expectations at the club to levels matching the big boys of Clermont and Toulon. Alongside the big-name signings has been the announcement of contract extensions for Le Racing‘s high-quality young players. France scrumhalf Maxime Machenaud, home-grown centre Henry Chavancy, dynamic prop Eddy Ben Arous and flying winger Virimi Vakatawa are among the prolongations.

Fiji-born wide man Vakatawa has been a real discovery over the last two seasons for the Parisian club, scoring 4 tries in 7 starts in the league this year. Indeed, speculation is mounting that the 21-year-old will be capped by France in the near future. The FFR are apparently awaiting confirmation from the IRB on Vakatawa’s eligibility for their test series in New Zealand next month. Meanwhile, Ben Arous has provided ball-carrying impact off the bench this season, while Chavancy has looked like a French international in-the-making.

With the likes of über-skillful fullback Juan Martin ‘El Mago’ Hernàndez, Argentinian winger Juan Imhoff, and French international trio Dmitri Szarzewski, Luc Ducalcon and Benjamin Fall also contracted for next season, Racing’s squad is bursting with talent. Toulon and Clermont will continue to improve, but Lorenzetti’s money has closed the gap with alarming speed. New entraineurs Labit and Travers have all the tools they need to challenge domestically and in Europe. Sexton will be excited to be involved.

Juan Martin Hernandez

El Mago has shown sparks of his former genius this season. Sexton may be the man to re-ignite the magician’s undoubted talent. (c) Pierre Selim.

Elsewhere, the delays Racing were encountering in attempting to build their new stadium, just 700m from the Grande Arche de la Défense, have finally been countered. Last month, the final protest was withdrawn. Construction of Arena 92, originally scheduled for completion in 2014, should be finished by the end of 2015. The stunning plans include 32,00 seats for sporting events, 40,000 capacity for concerts, and 33,000 square metres of offices, shops and restaurants. Building costs are expected to total around €320 million. Meanwhile, the club’s recently opened world-class training facility is running smoothly.

All these parts make up the package that attracted Sexton to Racing Metro. Lorenzetti looks to have delivered on the player investment promises that helped him to lure Sexton to Paris. Under two of the most highly-rated coaches in France, Sexton will be expected to make this Racing side tick.

Foreign players in France are laden with massive expectations from fans, coaches and co-players. If things don’t go right, they’ll be the first to be blamed, as the likes of Mike Phillips and Joe Rokocoko at Bayone have found out. However, if things go according to plan, they can become idols and focal points for their clubs. Jonny Wilkinson is the most high-profile example. Sexton will be aiming to emulate, and better, the Toulon outhalf.

Move over Wilko, there’s a new king in town!

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Racing Metro take on Toulouse tomorrow night in what is essentially a Top 14 quarter-final. Kick-off is at 8.00pm Irish time. As far as I can see, the match isn’t live anywhere apart from Canal+, but Setanta usually show re-runs.

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Photos: Pierre Selim, National Assembly for Wales.

Bienvenue Jonny!

Sexton

Sexton will be doing this in a lighter blue next season. (c) Linda Molloy.

While archaic French rugby laws mean that clubs can’t announce signings for next season until April, Jonny Sexton to Racing Métro 92 is one deal that we know is done and dusted. Club president Jacky Lorenzetti has distanced himself from the move a little over-exuberantly perhaps but we know that Sexton will be playing in France next season. So what should he expect?

Racing’s origins stem back to 1890 when a rugby section was added to Le Racing Club de France, originally set up as an athletics club. Their first Bouclier de Brennus came just two years later and the club had an extremely successful early period, winning another two national titles in that era.  A barren spell followed, with just one title coming in 1959, until the late ’80s, when a group of talented players led Racing back to the forefront of the French game.

The self-entitled Le Show Bizz was a gang of five Racing players who decided to combine serious rugby with a renewed sense of fun. Stunts like wearing berets for an entire match, donning pink bow ties on the field and painting their faces black before games were commonplace. Le Show Bizz were a sensation, even going on to release a pop single (so bad it’s worth a watch) and set up the Eden Park clothing brand. On the pitch, they were just as incroyable, winning the club’s most recent French title in 1990. (Check out this fascinating article by Le Rugby for more on Le Show Bizz).

The loss of that generation resulted in a downward spiral for Racing, and they fell out of the spotlight down in Pro D2 until 2006, when billionaire Jacky Lorenzetti decided to return the club to its former glories. Lorenzetti, who made his money in real estate through his Foncia firm, bought a 61% stake in the club and announced that they would be in the Heineken Cup by 2011. After heavy  investment from their new owner, the 08/09 season saw Racing, led by Andrew Mehrtens, finish top of the pile in Pro D2.

Chabal

Before the Sexton signing, Sebastian Chabal was possibly Racing’s biggest transfer coup. (c) Christophe Cussat-Blanc.

With big money spent on the likes of Francois Steyn, Lionel Nallet and the mythical Sebastian Chabal, Racing finished a creditable 6th in their first season back in the Top 14. Even better followed the next season, with a 2nd-place regular season finish, and a last-gasp semi-final defeat to Montpellier. Last season, another positive 6th-place secured more Heineken Cup rugby for the Parisien club.

Which brings us to the current campaign under head coach Gonzalo Quesada. At the outset of the season, Lorenzetti stressed the importance of stability after the club’s rapid rise. He said the club “remains ambitious, but we don’t have defined goals”. Both he and Quesada spoke about instilling a strong spirit and identity within the club. Unfortunately, these seemingly sensible intentions appear to have had the opposite effect. While it’s far from a disastrous campaign, Racing sit 8th in the Top 14 (7 points off the playoff positions) and were knocked out at the pool stages of the H-Cup.

Despite the arrivals of big names like Dimitri Szarzewski, Luc Ducalcon and Maxime Machenaud, Racing appear to be lacking in any real leadership at the moment. Despite Lorenzetti’s hopes, Racing find themselves at something of a crossroads, still lacking a clear identity. This is expressed in the inconsistency which has seen them beat Toulon away, but lose at home to Mont de Marsan. Lorenzetti has recognised that Racing need to get their momentum back next season, with his recruitment drive the most obvious sign.

The signing of Sexton will give Racing a clear leader on the pitch next year. This season, with Jonathan Wisniewski having missed much of the action through injury, Olly Barkley and Mathieu Belie have shared the number 10 jersey, with neither of them nailing it down. Sexton’s confident leadership skills are exactly what Racing needed to secure. The aforementioned laws on announcing signings ahead of April means that we can’t know for 100% who else Racing have signed, but it looks almost certain that Sexton will have Jamie Roberts playing outside him.

Stade Toulousain - Racing Métro

The 2010/11 season saw Racing reach the Top 14 semi-finals, so far the peak of the club’s achievements under Lorenzetti. (c) Frederic Salein.

In a league where scrum is king, the signings of Northampton props Brian Mujati and Sione Tonga’uiha should give Metro the platform for Sexton to unleash his backs. Springbok second-row Juandre Kruger is another who will be joining next season. In the back-row, Dan Lydiate is rumoured to have agreed a deal. If Lorenzetti has indeed added these world-class players to the existing quality in the likes of Machenaud, Szarzewski, Juan Martin ‘El Mago’ Fernandez, Benjamin Fall and Juan Imhoff, then Racing are going to be a seriously strong side next season.

Off the pitch, the president secured the future services of Castres’ current coaching duo Laurent Labit and Laurent Travers as early as last summer.  Both coaches enjoyed respectable playing careers; Labit, a fullback, played for France A, while Travers, a hooker, won the Heineken Cup with Brive in 1997. Upon retiring, the pair became co-entraineurs at Montauban, then in Pro D2. Within two seasons, Labit and Travers had the Southern club back in the Top 14. Another two season later, the coaching duo had led Montauban to Heineken Cup qualification for the first time in its history.

Castres swooped for the promising coaching team in 2009, and they have steadily improved the side over the last 3 seasons, making the play-offs each year and reaching the semi-final stage last season. The 44-year-olds are highly rated in France, and signing them as a team was a sensible move on Lorenzetti’s part. He will hope the undeniable success of the pair continues in Paris.

A further statement of Racing’s ambitions off the pitch is the planned new stadium in Paris. Les Ciels et Blancs currently play in Stade Yves-du-Manoir, with a capacity of 14,000. It’s a stadium with huge history, but in its current state doesn’t really befit a club of Racing’s ambitions. Construction on the new 40,000 seater stade, named Arena 92, is set to commence soon. Originally planned to be completed in 2014, Lorenzetti has pushed that date back to the end of 2015 due to repeated resident protests, as well as rising costs. When the stadium is eventually built in the Nanterre arrondissement, it will be a stunning home. 

Nearby, in Le Plessis-Robinson, the club recently opened a world-class training facility. It’s a truly cutting edge training base, with comprehensive recovery, analysis and strength/conditioning areas. It looks like the kind of place that would be a joy to work and train in. Check out the video below for the full guided tour from Racing’s manager Pierre Berbizier.

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All in all, it’s an overwhelmingly impressive package and you can see the obvious draw for Sexton, money aside. However, he really is the key to it all. Spending mega bucks and having the best stadium and training facilities count for nothing if you don’t have the right players on the pitch. Sexton will be the focal point for the whole club over the next two seasons, and maybe even beyond. He will be the man the coaches build their side around; a side which Lorenzetti hopes will create a whole new Show-Bizz era. It’s a massively exciting project, and one that will be followed intently all over Ireland.

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Photos courtesy: Linda MolloyChristophe Cussat-BlancFrederic Salein.