Racing Metro on fast track to the top

Parisians have star names and big plans as they look to emulate Toulon's rise by winning the European Rugby Cup title.

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    Racing Metro on fast track to the top
    Henry Chavancy is set to play against Clermont having been at Racing since they were in division two [AFP]

    Racing Metro 92 will be hoping they continue to follow in the tracks of European Rugby Cup champions Toulon when both kick off their continental campaigns in France on Sunday.

    Toulon's victory by a single point over Clermont Auvergne in last May's all-French final marked the fulfilment of a dream for a club that started the 2007-08 season in their national second division.

    A charge to the title saw them reach the Top 14, beginning their rise to the peak of European rugby – helped by the recruitment of star fly half Jonny Wilkinson.

    Behind them in second that season were Racing Metro 92. But the club from the suburbs northwest of Paris lost in the playoffs, dousing their ambitions for another year before they too were promoted into the top flight as champions.

    The symmetry with Toulon may be attractive for fans fantasising about their team lifting the European trophy next spring, but Racing are taking a more pragmatic approach to realising that goal.

    They have their own multi-millionaire, Jacky Lorenzetti, to rival Toulon's Mourad Boudjellal, who built the Toulon squad with his own money before turning the club into a commercial success in its own right.

    Lorenzetti is following the same formula.

    Ireland and Lions fly half Jonathan Sexton, 28, has been brought to France from Leinster for around 650,000 euros a year. He is in his prime and, like Wilkinson, will be a difficult proposition for any team in Europe.

    The size of his and Racing's task is being hit home immediately with their opening Pool 4 fixture – the arrival in Paris of Clermont, still smarting from defeat to Toulon in a final that they feel they should have won.

    Seduced

    But if anyone knows the confidence and potential of the club, it's Racing's director of rugby Simon Raiwalui – the former Saracens captain who came to France when Racing were still in division two.

    "I was seduced by the project of Jacky Lorenzetti," the Fijian told L'Equipe on Sunday. "And he has the means to realise it."

    Home-grown centre Henry Chavancy, 25, said that Lorenzetti's takeover in 2006 had brought its own difficulties by motivating their opponents on the pitch.

    European Rugby Cup

    Round One results

    Castres 19-13 Northampton
    Ospreys 9-19 Leinster
    Toulouse 38-5 Parma
    Connacht 17-23 Saracens
    Harlequins 26-33 Scarlets
    Ulster 22-16 Leicester
    Treviso 10-27 Montpellier

    Edinburgh 29-23 Munster
    Gloucester 27-22 Perpignan

    Exeter 44-29 Cardiff

    Round One fixtures

    Toulon v Glasgow
    Racing Metro v Clermont

    "When we travelled for away matches, we were the rich Parisians," he told the paper.

    "We had the impression that the whole town we were in was coming together, a bit like (the villagers) in an Asterix album, to beat the ogre."

    Sunday night's game is on friendly soil. Like their fellow nouveaux-riches in football, Paris Saint-Germain, Racing play at the former stadium of the French national team.

    But with a capacity of just 14,000, the Stade Olympique Yves-du-Manoir in Colombes can't contain Lorenzetti's ambition for long.

    A new ground, Arena 92, is set to open in nearby Nanterre in 2016. It is costing up to 300,000 euros to build, but will be able to host 32,000 spectators for rugby, and several thousand more for concerts – which nicely fulfils those commercial ambitions.

    Money, big signings, and a new stadium is an oft-repeated formula for success in sport, and Racing look like they will bolster an already formidable French field in the tournament – if not this year, then certainly in the years to come.

    Toulon, captained by Wilkinson, will already have played their match at home to Glasgow by the time Racing and Clermont take to the field in Colombes. Eighty minutes later, the men from the Cote d'Azur may know if they have more competition for their crown.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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