No satisfaction as Carter sits out start of new Racing era
All Blacks superstar Dan Carter has failed to recover from a knee injury and will miss out as Racing 92 finally begin life at their glittering new home on Friday.
Racing face Toulouse in a Top 14 clash at the state-of-art U Arena, four years after work started on the 40,000-capacity stadium in Nanterre, to the west of Paris.
Two-time World Cup winner Carter has already missed two months of the season and his continuing absence will be felt even more acutely after Argentine winger Juan Imhoff was banned for five weeks for headbutting Castres scrum-half Rory Kockott during their European Champions Cup win last weekend.
The U Arena, which will also be a venue for the 2024 Olympics in Paris, has already made its sporting and entertainment bow.
Rock legends The Rolling Stones headlined three concerts in October while the French national team played out a 23-23 draw against Japan in a November rugby international.
Racing owner Jacky Lorenzetti, a French real estate mogul, will see his club play a guaranteed 16 games a season -- 13 in the Top 14 domestic league and at least three in the European Cup -- at the ground.
The U Arena, the largest covered venue in Europe, boasts a synthetic pitch which the club hopes will encourage an expansive style of play which will in turn entice more fans to the ground compared to their poorly-attended current home at Colombes, an ageing venue open to the battering of the elements on all sides.
"As far as transport is concerned, it's better served than Colombes," said Racing skipper Dimitri Szarzewski. "Being warm will also be nice.
"The quick surface should allow us to play a high-speed game, that's always the wish of Racing."
Racing are currently fourth in the Top 14 table, six points behind leaders La Rochelle while Toulouse are a point further back in the sixth and final play-off spot.
"We don't have the right to win," added hooker Szarzewski whose teammates have trained at the new venue for the last three weeks.
"We are obliged to put in a good performance as there are huge expectations (on Friday)."
On Saturday, La Rochelle go to Bordeaux with New Zealand scrum-half Tawera Kerr-Barlow likely to make his bow in place of Alexis Bales.
Montpellier, in second, tackle Lyon but will have to do without All Blacks fly-half Aaron Cruden who suffered a knee injury on European Cup duty.
Stade Francais, fourth from bottom, are likely to hand a debut to another New Zealander, back-row forward Brendon Nansen.
Friday (Kick-offs GMT)
Racing 92 v Toulouse (1945)
Agen v Brive (1300), Bordeaux v La Rochelle (1500), Montpellier v Lyon (1700), Castres v Stade Francais, Pau v Clermont, Toulon v Oyonnax (all 1945)
© 2017 AFP