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Machenaud blow a major one for Racing's Champions Cup hopes against Leinster

Teddy Iribaren is expected to take over in Racing’s number nine shirt in Bilbao.

IF WE HAD been asked to pick out one player as pivotal to Racing’s hopes of beating Leinster on Saturday in Bilbao, it’s likely that many of us would have nominated Maxime Machenaud.

The France international scrum-half has been superb for the Top 14 side in their run to a second Champions Cup final in three years.

Maxime Machenaud walks down towards the dressing room with his son Gaspard after the game Machenaud with his son, Gaspard, after the win over Munster. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

His place-kicking accuracy was at 88% for Racing in this competition – the same success percentage as Leinster’s Johnny Sexton – but he brought much more than just those important points off the tee.

The captain of this team, Machenaud is a combative and ferocious competitor, with his defensive bite being important to Racing. His passing accuracy is generally superb, while his kicking game and tactical control have provided the French side with composure on many occasions.

On the shortlist for EPCR’s European Player of the Year alongside team-mate Leone Nakarawa and the Leinster trio of Sexton, Scott Fardy and Tadhg Furlong, Machenaud was set to play a major role in this final.

However, a knee injury he suffered in the Top 14 clash with Bordeaux at the end of April means Machenaud will be missing on Saturday, as well as for France’s tour of New Zealand next month.

In his place for Racing is likely to be 27-year-old Teddy Iribaren, who will be making just his fourth Champions Cup start if selected in the nine shirt.

Racing do also have 25-year-old Xavier Chauveau in their squad, but he has only started two Champions Cup games before and hasn’t featured as frequently as Iribaren this season.

Racing 92’s Maxime Machenaud Machenaud has been superb this season. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Either way, Machenaud missing out and Iribaren coming in certainly looks to weaken Racing.

“They’re both quality players,” insisted Racing wing Joe Rokocoko yesterday. “We’re more gutted for Max personally because he’s been outstanding, not only for us but the French team as well. He brings great leadership and aggression on defence.

“I know most teams try to target nines but he’s a guy who we can always rely on to make his tackles.”

Iribaren initially came through the ranks of Tarbes, a Pro D2 club at the time, before spending a season with Montpellier and then moving on to Brive for two years.

He joined Racing last summer and has since started 14 games in the league and made five appearances in the Champions Cup – four of those as a replacement.

At around 5ft 7ins and 72kg, he is as lightweight as they come but possesses a sniping threat in attack.

“Teddy brings a different sort of game,” said Rokocoko. “He doesn’t have a lot [of weight] on him but he’s got guts and determination. He’s got a bit of an unorthodox way of playing.

Racing 92’s Teddy Iribaren Iribaren is expected to start at nine. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

“He’s got a good strong pass and he’s more of a free nine. Teddy has been performing really well for us this season and he added a bit more pressure on Max to lift his game and Max’s game went up a level because of the performances from Teddy.

“Both nines have been crucial for us. We have full confidence in what Teddy can bring because he’s played in most of our games this year.”

Iribaren featured in the closing minutes of the semi-final victory against Munster in Bordeaux and though he didn’t have much time to make an impact off the bench, the southern province had some good scouting knowledge on him before that fixture.

“James Hart obviously had a bit of background into those kinds of guys and Racing as a whole,” said Munster scrum-half Conor Murray.

“Iribaren is a bit of a different player but really good, a highly-rated player and different to Machenaud. Obviously, Machenaud is the general goal-kicker, a lot of stuff goes through him, whereas Iribaren, he’s more of a running threat, a bit more unpredictable in a way. It’ll be a big stage for him but he’s got the ability to shine on a stage like that.

“I think the loss of Machenaud is going to be key for them, so whoever steps in there is going to have to play a big game because he’s been inspirational for them this year, so that’s a big blow but everywhere else they have big players.”

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Murray Kinsella

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