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Dublin: 8 °C Tuesday 26 March, 2019

Zebo rounds off BP win for Racing as Ulster let early lead slip in Paris

Dan McFarland’s side were well-beaten in the end.

Racing 44

Ulster 12

Murray Kinsella reports from Paris

TAKING IN A GAME at Racing’s home venue of Paris La Défense Arena is a surreal experience.

An indoor stadium that feels more like a concert venue than a rugby ground, with a full pre-match lights show and music pumping out as cheerleaders fire free t-shirts and rugby balls into the crowd, La Défense Arena is all about the show-bizz.

And there was a slightly surreal sense to the opening 25 minutes of Ulster’s visit to Paris as Dan McFarland’s side deservedly worked their way into a 12-3 lead despite a yellow card for back row Nick Timoney.

Olivier Klemenczak supported by Simon Zebo Olivier Klemenczak breaks with Simon Zebo in support. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

With Racing the heavy favourites to win, it felt a little too good to be true as Dave Shanahan and Jacob Stockdale crossed for Ulster tries and so it proved when Racing finally awoke to muscle their way into a 20-12 half-time lead.

Though the Top 14 outfit eased off after their third try early in the second half, they did finish the job in the closing 12 minutes and former Munster and Ireland fullback Simon Zebo put the final touch to their bonus-point win by scoring their fifth try.

Centre Olivier Klemenczak was man of the match and it always felt as though Racing could turn things up a gear or two when they needed to.

Ulster again suffered at scrum time – a huge issue for McFarland to sort – while lineout failings and some poor defensive organisation and tackle execution were also costly on the road.

After last weekend’s win at home to Leicester, this was a reminder that Ulster remain a work in progress and they will need to be much improved for the December head-to-heads with Scarlets if they are to advance out of Pool 4 of the Heineken Champions Cup.

Racing, with their host of stars, are likely to do so, having followed up last weekend’s win away to Scarlets with this five-try victory, Teddy Iribaren, Wenceslas Lauret, Juan Imhoff, Teddy Thomas, and Zebo all scoring against Ulster.

The introduction of Iribaren at scrum-half after just 25 minutes of the game proved to be decisive in awakening Racing from their early slumber and Ulster struggled to cope from there on.  

Simon Zebo with Will Addison and Stuart McCloskey Simon Zebo was at fullback for Racing. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Racing had started with ominous ball-carrying strength as they worked their way from their own 22 into Ulster’s before a Zebo offload proved too tricky for captain Henry Chavancy to handle.

Ulster struck brilliantly from the resulting scrum, with out-half Billy Burns making the initial bust off a cleverly pulled-back Stuart McCloskey pass. Burns fed 20-year-old fullback Michael Lowry to show off his pace, followed by an offload to Craig Gilroy.

Though the right wing was hauled down, Will Addison cut back against the grain on the next phase and stepped his way into the Racing 22 before fending Zebo and offloading to the clever support-running Shanahan to finish a wonderful sixth-minute try.

Lock Kieran Treadwell failed to roll away from a tackle just after, allowing Finn Russell to put Racing on the scoreboard with a penalty, then Ulster lost Timoney to the sin bin for tipping Fabien Sanconnie beyond the horizontal as he cleared him out at ruck time.

Undeterred, Ulster actually scored again while Timoney was off the pitch. Burns did well to gather in a scrappy lineout win in the Racing half, then showed off his intelligent kicking skills in the attack that followed.

First, he kick-passed wide right to Gilroy, who was tackled by Juan Imhoff and just couldn’t offload inside to Lowry for the try. But on the very next phase, Burns kicked brilliantly to Stockdale wide on the left, the Ireland international finishing past Thomas.

Jacob Stockdale scores his sides second try despite Teddy Thomas Jacob Stockdale crosses for Ulster's second try. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Though Burns didn’t convert the second try, Ulster led 12-3 with 25 minutes played, before something of a collapse late in the first half.

Stockdale knocked-on as Ulster attacked out of their 22 and the Racing pack powered up to savage the visiting scrum, getting a huge nudge up on tighthead Cedate Gomes Sa’s side, allowing number eight Antonie Claassen to burst down the right, draw in the isolated Stockdale and feed scrum-half Teddy Iribaren to score.

Iribaren had only been on the pitch for three minutes – starting nine Xavier Chauveau ruthlessly hooked in the 25th minute after Racing’s poor start – and he was integral again when Racing added a second try.

This time it was Ulster’s lineout that faltered, Wenceslas Lauret picking them off inside the Racing half, laying the platform for Imhoff to break off a clever Russell inside pass.

Racing recycled – there was a hit of a knock-on from Imhoff on the ground – and Iribaren sniped right of the ruck to feed centre Olivier Klemenczak, who broke Stockdale’s tackle. Though McCloskey tracked back to ground him, Klemenczak offloaded inside to the hard-working Lauret, with the back row rounding the retreating Jordi Murphy to score.

Russell converted both Racing tries and then added a second penalty with the last action of the half, Ulster’s scrum demolished again to hand the Scot a shot at goal from 45 metres out. He slotted it for a 20-12 half-time lead.

Teddy Iribaren scores his sides first try Teddy Iribaren scored for Racing only minutes after coming off the bench. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

McFarland made two changes up front at the break – Eric O’Sullivan on at loosehead for Andy Warwick and Sean Reidy in for Timoney – but Racing only need four minutes of the second half to notch a third try. 

Weak tackle attempts from Iain Henderson and Marcell Coetzee in midfield allowed Klemenczak to scythe through and draw in final defender Shanahan before passing to Imhoff on his right for a converted try and 27-12 lead. 

Russell extended the advantage in the 49th minute to punish Coetzee’s deliberate knock-on in defence and any hopes of an Ulster revival looked unlikely.

But Racing took their foot off the accelerator with the bonus point within reach, sloppy passing stifling several promising passages of attack.  

Referee Nigel Owens told Ulster replacement hooker Adam McBurney that he was lucky not to be binned after he put the shoulder in on Zebo off the ball as Racing threatened to take a quick lineout.

Ulster stayed at 15 and began to look good in attack again, creating opportunities for Lowry to threaten out wide and for Addison to cut through the Racing midfield in the 68th minute.

Nigel Owens yellow cards Nick Timoney Nick Timoney saw yellow in the first half. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

But none of the opportunities lead to the score that might have dragged Ulster back into the contest and Racing sealed the deal after Addison’s break and wide pass to sub wing Angus Kernohan was dropped.

From the scrum inside the Racing 22, Russell dinked a chip over the Ulster frontline defence, gathered in himself and raced into the visitors’ half with Zebo and Thomas in support either side of him.

Russell calmly drew in Kernohan and with Lowry marking up on Zebo, the Scottish out-half slipped Thomas away for the bonus-point score. 

The Irish fullback managed to get his name on the scoresheet in the closing minutes, the beneficiary of a long pass from replacement out-half Ben Volavola to finish past Lowry – pointing at the Ulster 15 as he did so. 

After a characteristic little dance in front of the Racing cheerleaders, Zebo did appear to apologies to Lowry and Iribaren converted to seal a convincing Racing win.

Racing 92 scorers:

Tries: Teddy Iribaren, Wenceslas Lauret, Juan Imhoff, Teddy Thomas, Simon Zebo

Conversions: Finn Russell [4 from 4], Teddy Iribaren [1 from 1]

Penalties: Finn Russell [4 from 4]

Ulster scorers:

Tries: Dave Shanahan, Jacob Stockdale

Conversions: Billy Burns [1 from 2]

RACING 92: Simon Zebo; Teddy Thomas, Olivier Klemenczak (Léonard Paris ’66), Henry Chavancy (captain), Juan Imhoff (HIA – Ben Volavola ’52 to ’58); Finn Russell (Ben Volavola ’72), Xavier Chauveau (Teddy Iribaren ’24); Guram Gogichashvili (Vasil Kakovin ’58), Camille Chat (Teddy Baubigny ’58), Cedate Gomes Sa (Census Johnston ’58); Dominic Bird, Leone Nakarawa; Wenceslas Lauret, Bernard Le Roux (blood bin – Fabien Sanconnie ’14 to ’24, permanent ’60), Antonie Claassen (Jordan Joseph ’58).

ULSTER: Michael Lowry; Craig Gilroy, Will Addison, Stuart McCloskey, Jacob Stockdale (Angus Kernohan ’58); Billy Burns (Johnny McPhillips ’46), David Shanahan (Jonny Stewart ’74); Andrew Warwick (Eric O’Sullivan ‘HT), Rory Best (captain) (Adam McBurney ’58), Marty Moore (Ross Kane ’53); Iain Henderson, Kieran Treadwell (Alan O’Connor ’58); Marcell Coetzee, Jordi Murphy, Nick Timoney (yellow card ’16 to ’26) (Sean Reidy ‘HT).

Referee: Nigel Owens [WRU].

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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