At Paris La Défense Arena
Game bonus for Harlequins
A dud at the start... Racing 92 kicked off their Heineken Champions Cup campaign on Sunday with a defeat to Harlequins in London. Trailing at half-time (14-17), Stuart Lancaster's players - who know the competition well having been on the Leinster staff for a long time - were able to right the ship after the break, in particular by showing their power. To finally stifle the English thanks to tries from Le Garrec (42nd) and Diallo (58th). But the Top 14 leaders once again let go in the face of the English onslaught. A London team that put a lot of intensity into this match, attacking one after the other. A bonus on the offensive, as is often the case in the Heineken Champions Cup. Racing still have a lot of things to fix, whether it's in terms of their offensive efficiency or their management of opponents' highlights. Next Saturday (21pm), the context will be more hostile against Ulster in Belfast. Where the weather will be much more unbridled than in the protected setting of the Nanterre Arena.
The Marcus Smith Show
The England fly-half was one of the attractions of this match. And Marcus Smith did not disappoint on the artificial turf of Paris La Défense Arena. Alternating the game perfectly, placing some formidable flashes of brilliance, the Harlequins international fly-half guided his team perfectly on Sunday. With a perfect pass from the "postman", he shattered the Ile-de-France defence (22'). Before, a few moments later, he set up his Golgoth crosser, André Esterhuizen (26′). And he scored a superb drop goal just before the break (38′). Flawless. Logically elected man of the match. Last year, Marcus Smith was courted by Racing 92, before extending his contract with Quins. The best way to remain eligible for the XV of the Rose, who will be without their usual playmaker and captain Owen Farrell for the next Six Nations.
Kolisi, a frustrated leader
Last year, Siya Kolisi played in the Heineken Champions Cup for the first time. It was with the Durban Sharks and they made it all the way to the quarter-finals, where they were swept aside by Stade Toulousain (54-20). This Sunday, the captain of the Springboks, world champions, returned to the now intercontinental competition in his new Racing 92 colours. It was a successful start where the wide-banded flanker brought all his aggression in defence and his leadership to his teammates. He was even at the origin of the first try for the Ile-de-France region, scored by Nolann Le Garrec (16′), by collecting a kick from Antoine Gibert and setting up the English defence perfectly. On several occasions, he then provided good relays in attack, which were not materialized afterwards. A solid game from the star recruit of the Ciel et Blanc. But it's not enough...
Racing overwhelmed by the pace
The Ile-de-France side struggled to get into their first Heineken Champions Cup match. In the first half, they were regularly overwhelmed by the pace imposed by the English. In Nanterre, the London club showed great dynamism - both in the forwards and in the three-quarters - on the pitch of the Arena. Racing regularly had to plug the gaps and were only trailing 14-17 at the break, which looked like a small miracle as the teammates of Marcus Smith and Joe Marler set the pace in the first half. In the second half, even if they managed to come back and take the lead, the Racingmen ended up folding. Too fickle and plugged into alternating current.
Arundell far too discreet
After a remarkable debut in the Top 14, including a hat-trick against Toulon, England's Henry Arundell was expected to make his debut this Sunday against his compatriots Harlequins. Several British players had also made the trip to Nanterre to see (among other things) the new nugget of English rugby. But the former London Irish player was rather disappointing on Sunday, never managing to make a difference thanks to his speed and the quality of his footwork. We saw three-quarters of London... Arrived this season at the Ciel et Blanc, the versatile 21-year-old back or winger (10 caps) will extend his exile in France rather than go to Bath, revealed The Independent. He will therefore deprive himself of an international career with the XV of the Rose. But the Altoséquan club is not going to complain...
Be careful not to bury the English
They were announced to be moribund on the inside, hit hard by serious financial worries. In the end, the English clubs hit hard for this first weekend of the Heineken Champions Cup. The only defeat to deplore was that of Saracens who fell to the Bulls of Pretoria (27-16). The South African provinces remain unbeaten on home soil since joining the major competition last year. For the rest, it's almost flawless with victories for Leicester, Bristol, Sale, Bath, Northampton, Exeter and Harlequins. A nice group shot at 7/8 when the French only made a 2/8 with Bayonne's beautiful draw at Munster. Of course, the English improvement remains to be confirmed, but it is a remarkable start.