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SAINTS 9 RACING-92 9 Points shared in tight tussle

Travis PerkinsSponsored by Travis Perkins

Honours were even at Franklin’s Gardens as, despite some promising attacking play and positions, both Saints and Racing-92 could not do enough to break the deadlock.

That’s not to say that there were good signs for Saints, not least the performance at the breakdown that earned Teimana Harrison a deserved man of the match piece of Waterford crystal, and a typically rambunctious outing from Jamie Elliott, who became the latest club centurion aged just 23.

As the previous game in Paris had shown, the opening minutes were going to be crucial at the Gardens. And when the Saints conceded a penalty in the opening salvos and Racing’s pack set up a maul in the home half things looked ominous for the men in black.

However Eddy Ben Arous rolled a defender away by his neck to end the possession, and after having held out it was Saints who were the first on the board, Stephen Myler landing a long-range penalty.

Saints were varying the point of attack nicely, spreading the ball through the hands and putting it to the boot when they had to. Nevertheless, just as they had in France, Racing’s defence proved up to the challenge, and the effort was rewarded when Saints came offside in their own half half-a-dozen minutes later for Dan Carter to tie things up.

The first decent sight of the whitewash for either side came at the end of the opening quarter. Ben Foden’s kick to the corner held up nicely in the five-metre box, and when Henry Chavancy sliced his clearance Saints had a great position 10 metres out.

The first drive was well set up and pulled down illegally, but Racing’s next attempt was on the right side of the law, and when Saints held on in a subsequent phase of play Carter cleared.

Saints challenged the lineout, but when the ball went forward it gave Racing a scrum, and with Ben Arous getting the better of Kieran Brookes Carter had his second shot at the uprights, which he duly converted from long range.

The hosts may have been behind, but they were having a decent game in many areas, not least winning several balls back at a ruck with Harrison to the fore. But there were too many errors in possession, and several times play was brought to an end just as pressure was starting to build.

However their turnover work remained on top form, and a dangerous attack was brought to an end when Victor Matfield used all his experience to spot the ball squirt out of a ruck and win possession back just outside his own 22.

There was an equally good play from George Pisi on Chavancy that won a penalty after Foden had brought down the centre, but the score remained to Racing’s advantage going into the break and Saints started the second half going down the field trailing by three.

They certainly started the half well, putting pressure on Joe Rokocoko after a Pisi kick to earn themselves a lineout on the 22. But the errors had also come through into the second half, with the throw sailing over the jumpers and the next one going off the line to give Racing a scrum.

Even though the shove was a good one Mike Phillips used all of his experience to remain calm, and all of a sudden Saints had found themselves on their own 22. This time the scrum earned a penalty, but when Burrell went on a charge Carter used all his experience to get his body angle right and rip the ball away.

The first half had seen flashes from Racing’s off-loading game, but Saints got into gear the next time they got the ball in their hands. Forwards and backs alike looked to keep the ball alive as the attack swept from one side of the field to the other and upfield relentlessly. However Racing’s defence remained solid and disciplined, until the hosts won another turnover and a man in blue came in from the side.

Myler tied things up, but saw his next attempt drift wide from 50 metres after another scrum penalty had been won by the hard graft up front.

Then momentum swung back Racing’s way, Rokocoko turning on the gas and the support getting a couple of lucky bounces with the ball. This continued with Saints conceding a penalty smack bang in front of the sticks, and as expected Carter made no mistake to put his team back in front.

However Racing made a mess of the kick off, Alex Waller put pressure on Carter, Wenceslas Lauret grabbed Paul Hill around the neck and Myler put the ball through the sticks.

It had been clear for some time that this was going to be a contest of few chances, but Saints had their best of the half with 15 minutes to play. More pressure on Carter saw the fly half get charged down, with Jamie Elliott showing smart hands to collect the spinning ball to set up a ruck on the line.

The scrum went Saints’ way, but Hill was penalised - harshly, according to the BT Sport commentators - and Racing had had the mother of all let-offs.

This also proved to be the final chance of the game, and, as with much of the action before it, the game largely played itself out in midfield.

SAINTS Foden; Elliott, G Pisi, Burrell, North; Myler, Dickson (capt); A Waller, Haywood, Brookes, Lawes, Matfield, Gibson, Harrison, Dickinson

Reps - Williams, E Waller, Hill, Day, Paterson. Fotuali’i, Hanrahan, K Pisi

RACING-92 Dulin; Rokocoko, Laulala, Chavancy, Imhoff; Carter, Phillips; Ben Arous, Szarzewski (capt), Tameifuna, Charteris, Van Der Merwe, Lauret, Nyanga, Masoe

Reps - Chat, Brugnaut, Gomes Sa, Carizza, Claassen, Machenaud, Goosen, Andreu

11mins SAINTS Pen Myler 3-0
18mins RACING Pen Carter 3-3
28mins RACING Pen Carter 3-6
51mins SAINTS Pen Myler 6-6
55mins SAINTS Miss pen Myler
59mins RACING Pen Carter 6-9
61mins SAINTS Pen Myler 9-9

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