Racing sports director Yannick Nyanga gathers his scattered and dazed troops on the synthetic turf at Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol. Irish winger Simon Zebo, yet author of two tries, cries. A few meters away, the English players of Exeter rejoice even if the stands have remained desperately empty, behind closed doors. For a first attempt, it’s a masterstroke.
For their first European final, the Chiefs leave with the Champions Cup trophy after a final controlled from start to finish. A distinction that escapes once again – the third after the failures of 2016 and 2018 – to the sky and bench club which nevertheless believed its time had come. Racing 92 bowed by a short head (31-27), with honors some would say, but as the Ile-de-France manager Laurent Travers recalled: “We will only remember the winner”.
A failed start
Led 14-0 after a quarter of an hour, Racing went astray by conceding two tries. The 2016 French champion had the art of complicating his task and greatly facilitating that of his opponent. Fallen from Stade Toulouse in the semifinals, Exeter did not hesitate to exploit all the gifts and scored as soon as his players entered the opposing 22 meters. Captain Chavancy’s teammates have never been in the lead, constantly chasing after the score.
The details, those who tip a chopper match, still played a nasty trick on the Parisians who had failed by three points in 2018 against Leinster. In a disheveled final, where eight tries were scored – a record – Russell and Machenaud each failed against the poles (20th and 43rd), points that are missing at the finish while their English counterpart has achieved a 100% at the foot. Despite all these handicaps, Racing made the English doubtful until the end. What feed regrets. “It meant a lot to this group of players. We probably made a few mistakes but the effort and the heart were there, ”analyzes Simon Zebo.
The Racing staff had opted for a playful hinge with Teddy Iribaren and Finn Russell at the helm to start the game against the English rigor. The choice did not pay off. But Laurent Travers does not regret the chosen option. “It’s easy afterwards to do this analysis”, notes the manager. For Iribaren, irreproachable throughout the European campaign, the cause of the drop in speed is simple: the scrum-half felt discomfort in the adductors from Friday during the penalty shootout. “During the warm-up (this Saturday), it was fine and then from the start he felt something. The technician thought of replacing him and sent Maxime Machenaud to warm up but, on the meadow, Racing returned to the battle thanks to the two tests of Zebo (20th) and Imhoff (32nd). The change will only take place during the break.
Regarding the opening half Finn Russell, we can speak of a failed final. The Scot was first signaled by extreme excitement by messing up a ball in his goal before missing a low kick that will bring a counter and the Chiefs’ third try. Returning from the locker room, after having served Zebo perfectly for his second try, Russell tarnished the highlight of Racing returned to four points (21-17) with an intercepted jump pass that ended with an English try. “There is no question of pointing out individual errors”, corrects Travers who rather wishes to retain the collective performance of his players returned to a point (28-27, 65th). “We have shown that we can be champions. Exeter’s victory is indisputable. But if we had won, there would have been nothing to say either. “
Finn Russell and his compatriot and opponent Stuart Hogg after the game