Northampton Saints vs Racing Metro: Saints into last eight but are humiliated by super-charged Racing

Northampton 8 Racing Metro 32: French sleeping giants click into gear as England fret over injury to Tom Wood

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The Independent Online

Can it be disaster when your team qualifies for the last eight of the European Champions Cup? Northampton, the English champions, came as close as possible on a humbling afternoon on their own turf, surrendering limply to Racing Métro who made themselves top seeds for the knockout phase.

The Paris club have never qualified for the last eight until now but they played with all the confidence of habitual top dogs. Never once did they release their grip on a match they managed superbly from start to finish, damaging en route a whole host of English reputations – on this evidence, you would wonder why Dylan Hartley and Luther Burrell are putative starters for England in the Six Nations next month.

Hartley’s disciplinary issues returned, yet again, to haunt him. Only a fortnight after completing a three-week suspension, the hooker found himself in the sin-bin for a technical offence and, on the hour, he was replaced. Burrell missed far too many tackles for comfort and  twice knocked on when a try was a possibility. Another England player, Tom Wood, limped off early in the second half after twisting an ankle in the first quarter although, on a day when Northampton’s set- piece struggled, it would be over-harsh to criticise the organisation of Stephen Myler and Lee Dickson, such were the crumbs the half- backs had to live off.


“We wanted to win and get a home quarter-final,” Jim Mallinder, Northampton’s director of rugby, said. “Going away to France is difficult. It’s a blow to our season but we’re still in the competition, which is important.”

Yet the chances are that Northampton, as one of the best runners-up, will have to play Toulon, the defending champions, which is a far cry from the home advantage on offer to the Pool Five winners at the start of the day.

Juan Imhoff scores for Racing Metro

Maybe it was an omen when Myler mishit his first kick at goal for, thereafter, Northampton never settled. Racing showed far too much savoir faire at the breakdown where Calum Clark fought a lonely battle. Hartley received a yellow card for tackling a player when off his feet, an offence compounded by the potential for a Racing try, but in his absence there were only penalties, two to Maxime Machenaud and one to Myler.

For all their difficulties, Northampton remained in touch with only 20 seconds of the first half remaining. Then Benjamin Lapeyre created the space for Juan Imhoff to score and, two minutes into the second half, the Argentina wing scored a second: it came after a lovely run by Ken Pisi, who was then mortified to see George, his elder brother, toss a pass to no-one which allowed Racing to kick out of their own half and Imhoff followed up for the try.

Benjamin Lapeyre celebrates with his Racing Metro team-mates

When Lapeyre emerged from a maul to score untouched, Racing had scored 19 points in the space of six minutes and the game was gone from Northampton. They did manage to create a try for George North, but that proved no more than a gesture. Even though Lapeyre received a yellow card for a deliberate knock-down when a try loomed for full-back James Wilson, Racing still extended their lead with 14 men.

Jamie Roberts, the Wales centre, created the position with a fine pick-up and link with Benjamin Dambielle, then Roberts battered his way to the line behind a close-range line-out. It was no more than his club deserved.


Northampton: J Wilson (J Elliott, 68); K Pisi, G Pisi, L Burrell (T Stephenson, 64), G North; S Myler, L Dickson (K Fotuali’i, 55); A Corbisiero (A Waller, 55), D Hartley (captain; sin-bin 14-25; M Haywood, 61), S Ma’afu (G Denman, 48), S Dickinson, C Day, T Wood (Haywood, 17-25; P Dowson, 44), C Clark, S Manoa (T Harrison, 64).

Racing Métro: B Lapeyre (sin-bin 56-67); T Thomas, H Chavancy, J Roberts, J Imhoff (Y Audrin, 53); B Dambielle (J Goosen, 71), M Machenaud (M Phillips, 58); E ben Arous (J Brugnaut, 62), D Szarzewski (captain; V Lacombe, 62)), L Ducalcon (B Mujati, 62), L Charteris, F van der Merwe (J Kruger, 62), W Lauret, B le Roux, A Claassen (C Gerondeau, 73).

Referee: N Owens (Wales).