I spent 8 days in Paris at the end of October, with a weekend trip to Rheims included, my daughter, Alex has lived in the city for nearly 7 years so it’s a place I like to visit as often as I can. By some strange coincidence there’s often a rugby match to go to when I make my Eurostar trip! Go figure, in October I had a rugby free week, but, happily Saracens had drawn Racing in the Champions Cup: It would’ve been rude not to go to the match, so 2 weeks after my October trip I was back on that Eurostar. I’d managed to get both trips at £58 and added in a third for the same price to go to the 6 Nations match at the Stade de France between France and England in February.
This was a trip with friends, Sheila and Linda; we booked an Airbnb, which worked really well. We walked over 35,000 steps, seeing most of the amazing sights in a truly beautiful city; we visited the stunning Musee D’Orsay; we used only public transport, taking the metro, the RER and a tram (I didn’t even know there was a tram in Paris), we ate in a lovely fish restaurant and a packed Basque restaurant, both full of locals. Hopefully all those steps helped work off some of the food consumed.
I watched Racing twice at their old stadium, with Saracens winning with a long range kick from Marcelo Bosch on the last kick of the game. Alex and I then went back to see Dan Carter make his debut for the French club ,this time Racing won, beating Northampton Saints 33 to 3. It was a thrill to watch the All Blacks legend at closer quarters.
This was my second visit to their new stadium, the Paris La Defense Arena, Alex and I saw them beat Bordeaux in a crazy game that saw a silly red card for the Racing sub Scrum half, Teddy Iribaren and 72 points scored. The final score being Racing 45 Bordeaux 27. It was crazy full on entertainment, albeit in a slightly strange stadium.
I wasn’t there as a neutral this time round, I was there in full voice amongst my fellow Saracens fans. Yet, I had to marvel at the sublime skills of one of the men who’s taken over from Carter: Finn Russell played some sublime rugby, it was impossible not to marvel at both his hands and his evasion skills. Sometimes you just have to be a rugby fan, this match was one of those times.
Racing took an early lead with a penalty from Maxime Machenaud before the lead was extended through the formidable Virimi Vakatowa, 10 nil after 25 minutes wasn’t a disaster, but it wasn’t looking brilliant.
The stats for the match aren’t pretty from a Saracens viewpoint, starting with the line outs, Saracens were only successful from 6 of the 11 on their throw, and conceded 13 penalties to Racing’s 5. With no other factors that was going to make this an uphill battle for the visiting team. Add in the fact that Racing had 67% possession and 69% of the territory and the final scoreline of Racing 30 Saracens 10 really wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been.
Teddy Thomas added a second try for Racing in the first half, I’d be interested to see this one on the TV, he was very close to touch, but judged by the TMO to be all good, so, try given. Ben Spencer kicked his own long range penalty, with breaths being held as it sneaked low over the posts, it was a cracker! The score was Racing 18 Saracens 3 at half time.
An interception by Nick Tompkins gave us Saracens fans something to shout about, a player who punches way above his weight, he stormed up the field with Alec Lozowski on his shoulder, a neat pass saw Lozowski run in to claim the 5 points. An 8 point gap was soon widened though when Finn Russell did Finn Russell things, some of his passes were literally things of beauty!
Russell scored after a lovely dummy and Machenaud converted, it felt like the floodgates might open. The wonderfully named Wenceslas Lauret scored Racing’s 4th try on 65 minutes, that was the bonus point in the bag. However that was it as far as points were concerned, the Saracens players can be really proud of their defensive effort, espceially when they went down to 14 men as substitue scrum half Tom Whiteley saw yellow.
I’m reading headlines telling me Saracens were battered, and I guess to a degree the stats do suggest that, but the scoreline doesn’t for me. They go again on Saturday, with Saracens playing host to the Ospreys and Racing travelling to Limerick to face Munster.
As an aside, the stadium, while impressive, is a strange place to watch rugby, for one thing, it’s very warm! Don’t bother wrapping up to watch there. And while the atmosphere was good, the constant piping of Queen and their crowd was wearing. However all in all, this was another great trip to Paris! This is going to be a hard season for Saracens but I’ll be there to support alongside many other loyal fans.