Racing enjoy euphoric start in new arena


Paris (AFP)

Racing 92 inaugurated their new indoor U Arena home in the western Parisian suburbs with a 23-19 victory over Toulouse on Friday.

Racing left their historic Stade Yves du Manoir a week ago with a European Champions Cup win against Castres and the 2016 French champions began this new chapter in their 127-year-old story with success, if not in much style.

A quick-fire brace of first-half tries from Wenceslas Lauret and Virimi Vakatawa gave Racing the platform for this victory on a synthetic pitch in front of a crowd of 29,000 -- around three times their average at the old stadium.

"It was brutal, we're happy to have won for the first time at the U Arena," said Vakatawa.

"It's not the same as outside, the ball isn't wet so that allows you to play. We started well but we struggled to keep it going."

Toulouse lock Yoann Maestri had mixed feelings about the stadium.

"It's mad... and weird. It feels like a gymasium. They need some air because it smells new. There's not a lot of air when you play."

The victory moved Racing up to second ahead of the rest of the weekend programme while a losing bonus point saw Toulouse climb a place to fifth -- although both sides will likely drop places before the weekend is up.

Toulouse full-back Thomas Ramos kicked the first points at the new stadium in the third minute and straight from the restart, Racing suffered a second blow -- quite literally.

Diminutive scrum-half Maxime Machenaud got his head the wrong side in trying to tackle charging lock Maestri and was not just knocked to the floor but also saw his senses scrambled.

As he tried to struggle to his feet, he was clearly not in control of his body and fell over. He was immediately withdrawn for a head injury assessment.

- Bubbling -

But back came Racing and although one promising position was ruined by a Ben Tameifuna knock-on, they transferred the ball quickly across the pitch from a line-out to send wing Teddy Thomas charging towards the tryline.

Toulouse stopped him short but quickly recycled ball allowed Lauret to side-step prop Lucas Pointud and score under the posts.

Racing were bubbling and after Pointud was sin-binned for a late hit on Brice Dulin, Fiji-born France wing Vakatawa was driven over from a short range line-out.

Toulouse survived further damage and Ramos even scored a second penalty while a man down.

As Pointud returned, Racing were reduced to 14 after fly-half Remi Tales performed a WWE-style move to clear Toulouse scrum-half Antoine Dupont out of a ruck.

Ramos punished Racing with a third successful kick from the tee but Maestri was then penalised for stupidly obstructing Tameifuna and Teddy Iribaren, who had come on for Machenaud, kicked a penalty for Racing.

On the stroke of half-time Pointud was penalised at a ruck and Iribaren knocked over a fourth kick to give Racing a 20-9 lead at the break.

Tameifuna proved the villain for Racing after the restart, losing the ball in contact near his own line, coughing up possession to Toulouse who probed away to the left and right before Yoann Huget was sent clear on his wing.

Another Iribaren penalty gave Racing a lead of a converted try but the game had lost the flow and intensity of the first period.

Another Ramos penalty brought the visitors to within a try of victory but the first match of Racing's U Arena era then petered out.