With a weekend planned in the North West taking in a Widnes RL game and spending time with Orrell (2007) RUFC – a lot more to come on that – it seemed rude not to travel home via Nottingham to take in the Champions Cup semi-final between Leicester Tigers and Racing Metro.
The lovely Aine – Tigers mad fan had been kind enough to sort out a ticket for me; it’s lovely to build friendships across the Premierships, only of the joys of rugby.
I drove down from Orrell arriving at the Nottingham Rugby ground in good time. I’d seen them play a couple of seasons ago at the Notts City ground, I had a n enjoyable afternoon but it was a bit soulless. They have a great facility now, close to Trent Bridge and the Notts Forest ground, I hope to return to watch Nottingham play early next season.
There was a fan zone at the ground as well as plenty of parking which worked really well. I met with Andrea (Tigers crazy!) and Maria (neutral) and we went in search of lunch, finding an Italian near the cricket ground. The Antonio Trattoria – it looked really basic, but goodness the food was good!
We made our way to the ground but went to the wrong entrance, having been turned away by a grumpy jobsworth, in spite of the fact I was walking with a crutch we were then taken through a short cut by a very helpful supervisor. One look at my limp and crutch and we were given seats on the lower tier, which was very kind of the stadium staff.
One of the very odd things about this particular semi-final was that this was meant to be a neutral venue. Had Toulon won the quarter final against Racing it would have been in Nice – very close to Toulon. As it went this was almost in Leicester’s backyard, neither terribly neutral!
Racing however brought 2 blocks of fans, with flags in hand. Tigers themselves had handed out flags to make their considerable presence known at the ground.
As far as the game goes I’m not going to write a novel, so this will be more Phlog than Blog (I say this now). Any team with Dan Carter at the helm would be a hard team to beat, in spite of the fact that it feels like French teams don’t travel well.
I’d seen Carter’s debut in Paris when Racing played Northampton Saints – I don’t think it’d be remiss to say they thrashed their English visitors that day. However that wasn’t to be the case at the City Ground.
I’m just checking for team facts online and can see a headline saying Racing dominated Tigers – I’m not sure that was the case. Their defence was most certainly firm and to a degree they kept the Tigers quiet.
However the English team seemed to have a difficulty both passing and catching the ball. With that in mind it was going to be a difficult task to beat Racing Metro.
While the star that is Dan Carter went about his business with efficiency it was Maxime Machenaud who shone. The French scrum half scored a try in the 2nd minute, putting Tigers on the back foot virtually straight away, he dived over the line after his forwards had driven the ball close. Carter added the extras.
Freddie Burns was able to close the gap on 27 minutes when he successfully kicked a penalty. He was forced from the field 9 minutes later with what looked a significant injury, and although replaced by the very capable Owen Williams it will have been a blow to see him depart on 36 minutes.
One of Williams first acts was to kick a penalty adding 3 points and closing the gap to a single point. The play switched to the Tigers half and a mere 2 minutes later Carter converted a penalty for Racing. The teams went in at half time with the scores on Tigers 6 Racing 13.
Tigers hadn’t covered themselves in glory in that first half, they emerged with a bit more verve, getting the basics right more often, yet still spilling the ball too many times. Penalties were traded again, with Williams scoring on 43 minutes and Carter on 50.
Johan Goosen kicked a long range penalty for Racing taking them to 19 points before Telusa Veainu gave the Tigers fans a glimmer of hope with a try, a glimmer because to was scored with a minute remaining on the clock. Williams converted the try, but it was all too little too late.
The final score was Leicester Tigers 16 Racing Metro 19. The French team now go to Lyon to face Saracens while Tigers can concentrate on achieving 4th place in the Premiership and battling to get to the final.
The three of us headed back to the fan zone, the Tigers players made their way back to the ground, it was particularly impressive to see just how many photos and autographs Manu Tuilagi gave after what must have been a great disappointment. I bagged a photo myself as well as seeking out a favourite player of mine this season Harry Thacker. A throughly enjoyable afternoon in spite of the result.