If you've been following the least few recaps, you'll know full well that I'm ten games deep into my largest acca of the new year. With last gaps victories from Bath and Clermont, a resurgent performance from the Tigers and an impressive comeback from Toulouse, I'm riding high with luck from game to game. My money is on Racing in this one, but we're Edinburgh able to spoil the party?
Racing are the closest to the French national side's style of Rugby in Europe right now. Sure, they have a lot of internationals scattered across their squad, but it's their game plan that makes them so similar. They are abrasive, gritty and rely on brute force to knock the door down. They do have some sprinkling of star dust out wide with Thomas, Zabo and Beale, but it's in the forwards where they replicate that French form. Going into this game, I did feel a bit nervous on how they would cope with Ritchie, Watson and Cherry since they struggled so badly in the Six Nations. Not a concern this time around. Around the fringes this French side is lethal; constant pick and go's in a zig zag up and down the pitch just meant that Edinburgh were forced to take so much damage in the loose. By the half way mark, the Scottish forwards looked really beaten up. That Racing pack dwarfed the mobile Edinburgh forwards man to man and it showed. Even in the back line, the lines of Vakatawa were constantly able to get their hands free for offloads as they were unable to be hauled down.
Flair or Great Support Lines?
We often confuse moments of French brilliance with flair, when it's really down to well drilled support lines. Both flankers and the 9 were constantly on the outside shoulder of those making a break; Machenaud made identical, passive runs to the likes of Robson and Care. He took his try well because of it. Its impossible to defend when every player sucks in two and has options to pop to someone on the outside shoulder. Every time Racing cut through, there two or three support runners giving countless running options.
Ritchie and Watson Shine Again
Although the scoreline might not reflect it, Ritchie and Watson proved yet again that they were are a world class pairing. Watson palmed off huge defenders for fun and made fantastic, gain line hits. Ritchie is just phenomenal over the ball, constantly disrupting breakdowns and jackaling the ball away from opposition. For a good twenty minute stint in the first half, it looked like Ritchie was going to cause real problems for Racing; they just chose to throw big forwards into his back to stop him. With all the talk of Watson's definite Lions inclusion, are we intentionally forgetting how important Ritchie is for club and country?
Luke Pearce Strikes Again
A couple weeks ago we were asking the question, 'is there a better referee in world Rugby than Luke Pearce?' Now we are asking the question, 'why aren't there any referee's even close to Pearce' s ability?' Every game you watch with him at the helm, you just know it's going to be a barn stormer. He let's the game flow and he ref's right on the edge; it's not a case of him letting easy penalties go, it's a case of him putting himself in a players shoes. His explanations in both French and English are always clear, precise and ahead of time, allowing the viewer to fully understand every scenario and call, and allowing the player to correct mistakes before they happen. The reason this game was so exciting is largely down to him... Again...
Maxime Machenaud - We often forget the experience Machenaud has and he's still at that international level. His service is fast and accurate, his support lines are deadly and his box kicks are pin point.
Camille Chat - He's a pretty scary dude and he really hurt these Scottish forwards with both ball in hand, and with his ferocious hits.
Jamie Ritchie - Tackled well, led with real heart and kept Edinburgh in the game for large periods.
Virimi Vakatawa - I'm literally just putting him here for that awesome chicken wing offload... Oof!
David Cherry - Really struggled with this French physicality. Knocked backwards on a couple of occasions.
Sam Johnson - Struggled to contain Racing's strike runners and didn't make much impact in attack either.
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