Top 14: Talking points as Johnny Sexton kicks Racing to semis
Top 14: Gareth Llewellyn-Stevens takes a look at talking points from Racing Metro's 21-16 victory over Toulouse
Seventh heaven Sexton kicks Racing to semis
Ireland outside-half Johnny Sexton was at his imperious best as he kicked all 21 points to send Racing Metro into the semi-finals of the French Top14 for the first time. Of the three British and Irish Lions in the starting 23 for the Parisians—with Jamie Roberts at centre and scrum-half Mike Phillips off the bench in the second half—Sexton was the only one to shine as he never looked like missing off the tee and he will be forgiven for coming up short with an ambitious drop-goal attempt from 40 metres in the first half as he kicked his side into a 12-3 lead. The scoreline was close at 21-16, but Sexton’s accuracy meant that despite their lack of attacking threats with ball in hand they just needed to keep a solid defence and let the Irishman take over. The result: a showdown with Toulon and their talismanic captain Jonny Wilkinson next Friday.
Set-piece problems for Toulouse
Toulouse’s defeat to Racing at the Stade Ernst-Wallon sees the European behemoths fail to make the semi-finals for the first time in 21 years. The 19-time French champions have real problems on the pitch. Their lineout and scrum were there for show against Racing, who never looked like scoring a try. The likelihood before the match was that Sexton’s kicking could see Racing home given Toulouse’s penchant for choking opposition, but they were very much masters of their downfall. Former All Black Hosea Gear scored the match’s only try to extend his form to five in four matches three minutes after the break while Yannick Nyanga was at his menacing best when he came off the bench, but the aimless kicking from hand, countless penalties and non-existent set-piece made it all too easy for the Parisians to keep the scoreboard ticking over after several schoolboy errors. The manner of the win was surprising given the side was packed with internationals called up to France’s summer squad to tour Australia. With Luke McAlister and Jean-Marc Doussain both missing penalty attempts, the arrival of Toby Flood from Leicester Tigers can’t come soon enough.
Fritz treatment raises serious questions
Toulouse centre Florian Fritz looked as though he’d gone 12 rounds in a ring with a heavyweight boxer after his head collided with the knee of Racing’s Francois van der Merwe midway through the first half. Despite blood pouring from an open head wound and the French international not entirely steady on his feet, he was somehow allowed to return with a few minutes of the half remaining, seemingly patched up with his dark hair showing off a claret rinse. The big question is understandably over the duty of care for the safety of the player. It is unknown if Fritz was simply stitched up and allowed to return or whether a proper concussion test had taken place. The big Frenchman certainly seemed intent on continuing as he left the field of play. The role of head coach Guy Noves and the Toulouse medical staff certainly need investigating by the Ligue National Rugby, while questions should be asked of referee Jerôme Garces as to whether he and his colleagues checked the situation before allowing him to return. It may only have been a few minutes before he failed to return at half-time, but there is no excuse for taking head injuries of any sort lightly and there was nothing light about Fritz’s injury. Even if Toulouse were short of replacements in the midfield—Gaël Fickou, who replaced him twice, is a French international and tipped to have a great international career—it is a risk that cannot be taken and shouldn’t be tolerated in an age when there is increasing awareness over concussion in contact sports.