Racing edging closer to Top 14 rugby title

Racing-Metro won five French rugby titles under their previous guise as Racing Club de France, the last in 1990, but their recent form suggests a sixth title is not far away.

Under the experienced gaze of former France and Italy coach Pierre Berbizier and the lavish finances of real estate mogul Jacky Lorenzetti Racing-Metro exited controversially to eventual champions Clermont in last season’s semi-finals.

However, they have shrugged off that misfortune and maintained their form this term and host Perpignan on Friday with the chance of at least temporarily returning to the top of the table – they only trail present leaders Montpellier on head to heads.

The present Racing side have eschewed the antics of their predecessors, whose players headed by former greats Franck Mesnel and Laurent Cabannes were not averse to running onto the pitch in berets or sporting pink bow ties – or drinking champagne at half-time as they did in the 1990 final.

That was, though, in the amateur days and there is no room for such high jinks in the hard nosed professional circuit and it was illustrated in their businesslike if unspectacular 15-9 victory over Bayonne last Friday.

It was in stark contrast to the spectacle that Perpignan provided with Toulouse on the Saturday as the 2009 champions raced into an early lead only to be defeated 38-29.

Perpignan are already six points adrift of their opponents and defeat could see it stretch to at least 10, but one of their former stars Racing-Metro scrum-half Nicolas Durand whilst admitting his former team-mates have not yet hit top form is not taking victory for granted.

“I would say that they have had a very difficult period,” said Durand.

“They at one point had a peak of 18 injured players. However, it is a team that has shown its mettle in adversity by taking points – even if they were not maximum points.

“It is a team that is in the process of restoring some offensive qualities.

“They have to, though, find a good balance. They remain all the same a solid outfit and difficult to push around.

“Toulouse had to play out of their skins to get the result they did against Perpignan last weekend.”

Toulouse, like Racing-Metro, are on 32 points and host Toulon this Saturday with the visitors bidding to rebound from two successive defeats – a European Cup mauling by Munster and then a narrow defeat by Stade Francais last Saturday in the Top 14 clash.

The visitors will do well to avoid a third successive reverse if Toulouse repeat their stunning display from last Saturday whose highlight was a superb individual try by former All Black star Byron Kelleher which turned the match finally his side’s way.

The 34-year-old scrum-half says that it has not just been shedding several kilos and reacting to some lively competition for his position that has rejuvenated him.

“If I was that good last Saturday then it is more down to the other players on the team than myself,” the 57-times capped Kiwi said graciously.

“I have had to develop my style of play but it is never too late to do that.

“This competition inside the club, has been a stimulant for me to do so.”

Clermont seem to have suffered an adverse reaction after at last putting to rest their chokers tag in lifting the French title – but they are only eighth ahead of Saturday’s home clash with Stade Francais after suffering five defeats in their 10 matches so far.

Coach Vern Cotter admits that they are not at their best and wants to stop the rot of two successive defeats in its tracks.

“We are trying to put things in place so that our style of play becomes more coherent,” said Cotter.

“We are aware that we are not playing anything like at 100percent of our abilities.

“There is a little bit of frustration but I don’t think there is a crisis because frankly we have been training well…little by li

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