IRELAND OUT-HALF Jonny Sexton’s 17 points were vital in helping Racing Métro to a 32-22 win in their Parisian derby against Stade Français in the Top 14 this afternoon.
The victory at the Stade Jean-Bouin [Stade's home ground] moves Racing up to fourth in the league table for the time being, with playoff rivals Castres and Toulouse both to play later today.
Wins for Castres [away to Biarritz] and Toulouse [away to Toulon] would mean Sexton and co. slipping back down to seventh position [outside the play-offs], but this success over their neighbours with three regular season games remaining is a huge boost.
An intercept try from right wing Benjamin Fall in the eighth minute got Racing off to the perfect start underneath the Parisian sun, with Sexton converting to give his side an early 7-0 advantage.
With the ‘away’ team looking threatening in possession, Stade had to wait until the 24th minute to conjure a response, as reliable South African out-half Morne Steyn slotted his first penalty attempt of the afternoon.
Racing have had major struggles in attack this season, with their undeniably talented parts failing to add up to an effective sum, but those issues were not apparent for long stints of this game.
Superb attacking play from deep inside their own half saw les Franciliens make huge yardage up the left, with the impressive Jamie Roberts linking well with Sexton. When the ball was swept to the right-hand side, Springbok lock Juandre Kruger was on hand to dive over.
Sexton missed the difficult conversion near the touchline, but managed to kick a penalty three minutes later to stretch the Racing lead to 15-3. Steyn’s drop goal reduced that deficit in the 35th minute, before Sexton shot narrowly wide with a straightforward penalty attempt from just to the right of the posts.
Two minutes later, the 28-year-old redeemed himself by popping over three points after yet another Stade infringement, leaving Racing 18-6 up at the break.
Laurent Labit and Laurent Travers’ side made an horrendous start to the second period, as scrum-half Maxime Machenaud saw his attempted clearing kick blocked down by Stade winger Waisea Nayacalevu, who pounced on the ball to score.
Although Steyn missed that conversion, he did kick a 48th minute penalty to draw Stade back to 18-14, but Sexton replied with his third successful penalty four minutes later. Steyn responded accurately once again, however, to slot his own third penalty.
With just over ten minutes remaining, Racing went back into their new-found attacking mode and the end result was a try wide on the left for back row Jacques Cronje. Sexton went close himself in the build-up, before Juan Martín Hernández sent Cronje over in the corner.
The Irishman’s conversion was wide to the left, and three minutes later he slipped off his covering tackle on Nayacalevu as the dynamic Fijian powered home for an excellent individual try.
Steyn was missed the conversion from the right-hand side, leaving the game poised at 26-22, until Sexton nailed a 75th penalty to provide Racing with a seven-point lead heading into the closing minutes.
With the final action of the game, the Irish out-half slotted his fifth penalty of the afternoon to put the cherry on an excellent and deserved Racing win.