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PREVIEW: European rugby’s old and new powers clash

Tuesday 19th April 2016

12:00 am (GMT)

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Europe's old and new powers clash when Leicester Tigers and Racing 92 clash for a place in the European Rugby Champions Cup Final. - 19/04/2016 14:04

Europe's old and new powers clash when Leicester Tigers and Racing 92 clash for a place in the European Rugby Champions Cup Final. - 19/04/2016 14:04

Europe’s old and new powers clash when Leicester Tigers and Racing 92 clash for a place in the European Rugby Champions Cup Final.

Racing will make their first semi-final appearance while two-time cup winners Tigers are no strangers to reaching the last four of this tournament.

However it is 14 long years since Leicester were crowned European champions for a second time in 2002. They have come mighty close to repeating that success, not least in 2007, when they lost the final to Wasps and again in 2009 to Leinster.

Since then they have reached the quarter-finals three times, losing all three on the road, until this month. A handsome 41-13 victory over Stade Francais – sparked by fit again England centre Manu Tuilagi – has the Welford Road faithful dreaming once again of finally ending that long wait.

Club captain Ed Slater said: “Every year we look to end that wait but we’ve come unstuck in some big games recently.

“During my time at the club [since 2009] we’ve lost three quarter-finals that were all away, at Leinster, Toulon and Clermont. It just goes to show how tough it is to win this cup.

“But we’ve given ourselves a great opportunity by reaching the semi-final. Knock-out cup rugby is never straight-forward, anything can happen.”

Tigers are sure to enjoy home advantage in Nottingham’s City Ground, the site of one of the most dramatic matches in cup history.

Leicester famously defeated Llanelli 13-12 thanks to a last-minute penalty from 58 metres by Tim Stimpson, which bounced off both crossbar and post before dropping over.

Their opponents from Paris are no strangers to late kicks. Racing’s France international scrum-half Maxime Machenaud, just moments after missing from in front of the posts, held his nerve to kick the winning penalty against holders Toulon.

However Racing will be hoping Dan Carter has recovered from a slight knee strain that prevented the former All Black and current World Player of the Year from kicking.

That was only the second time Racing had reached the knock-out stage of Europe but with the likes of Juan Imhoff, Brice Dulin and Joe Rokocoko in their back-line, it is no wonder many are tipping them to extend French rugby’s hold on the trophy.

And there is plenty of Champions Cup experience behind the scenes. Both head coach Laurent Travers and assistant Ronan O’Gara are previous tournament winners.

Former Munster fly-half O’Gara is the tournament’s leading all-time points scorer while Travers lifted the trophy with Brive in 1997, against a Leicester side that included current head coach Richard Cockerill.

Match Facts

  • Sunday's semi-final will be the first time the clubs have met in European competition. 
  • Leicester have progressed from five of their previous six tournament semi-final ties; their last win at this stage was against Cardiff Blues in 2009 following a place kick competition. 
  • This will be Racing 92's first appearance in a European semi-final. 
  • Only once in their last 20 fixtures against TOP 14 opposition have Leicester won back-to-back matches (v Montpellier in 2013/14). 
  • On the last five occasions that Racing have played Premiership opposition, they have conceded 12 points or fewer (W3, D1, L1); four of these games were against Northampton Saints. 
  • Leicester are the only side in this season's Champions Cup to achieve a success rate of 90% or better at both the scrum (91%) and lineout (92%). 
  • Racing have conceded the fewest tries (7) of any team in the competition this season. Leicester, meanwhile, have scored the most (30). 
  • Dan Carter has missed just one of 20 shots at goal in the Champions Cup this season, giving him the best success rate (95%) of any of the 24 players to attempt 10+ place kicks. 
  • Henry Chavancy (10) and Brendon O'Connor (10) are joint-leaders in the turnovers category this season. 
  • Luke Charteris has recorded the most lineout steals this season (5). The Welshman has also made the second most tackles (91/94) in the competition.

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REPORT: Racing set up revenge final against Saracens

Sunday 24th April 2016

12:00 am (GMT)

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Racing 92's rapid rise from ProD2 rugby in France to the upper echelons or European club rugby was completed at the City Ground

Racing 92's rapid rise from ProD2 rugby in France to the upper echelons or European club rugby was completed at the City Ground

Racing 92’s rapid rise from ProD2 rugby in France to the upper echelons or European club rugby was completed at the City Ground, Nottingham, as they reached their first Champions Cup final with a 19-16 victory over Leicester Tigers.

It means the club that only returned to the Top 14 in 2009 will face the English champions at the Grand Stade de Lyon on Saturday, 14 May in a game that will mean a new name will be added to the elite list of European Cup winners. It also means Racing will get the chance to avenge their home quarter-final defeat by Saracens last season.

The Tigers had roared into the semi-finals with a six try demolition of another Parisian side, Stade Francais, and were hoping to reach a record equalling sixth final. But they were hit for six by a third minute try from Racing skipper Maxime Machenaud and the French side’s tough as teak defence did the rest of the damage.

Machenaud struck after a brilliant break from former All Black wing Joe Rokocoko and the little scrum half, later named as the Heineken Man of the Match, sniped his way over from two metres out. Dan Crater added the conversion and Racing were off to a flyer.

Racing stifled the Tigers in the first half and, with a handling error count that rose to 14 before the end of the game, the two-time former champions were often the architects of their own downfall.

The lead grew to 10 points when Carter added a second penalty midway through first-half and it could have been greater had Johan Goosen been on target with a 50+ metre penalty and Carter not sliced a drop goal attempt.

Freddie Burns finally notched the fist points for the Tigers after 28 minutes, but then the Leicester playmaker had to leave the field with an ankle injury. That brought Owen Williams onto the field and the young Welshman held his nerve to land a 40 metre penalty with his first action on the pitch when he came on.

He added a second penalty before the break, but when Dom Barrow was caught holding onto the ball at the break down in front of his posts on the stroke of half-time, Carter kicked another goal to make it 13-6 at the break.

The Tigers scrum picked up five penalties at the set-piece and three minutes after the break the front five created another shot at goal for Williams and he cut the gap to four points. Now it was anyone’s game and a Carter penalty on 50 minutes, this time against Dan Cole in the Tigers front row, eased the nerves of the Racing fans.

It looked as though the French side were going to move even further ahead on the hour when they broke up the narrow side of a scrum on half way and then swung the ball wide for Johan Goosen to cross for what would have been a wonderful score. But Nigel Owens asked the TMO to check the original pass from the outstanding Racing No 8 Chris Masoe to his scrum half and the verdict was that it was a forward pass.

The Tigers breather a huge sigh of relief, but when they coughed up an obstruction penalty on 73 minutes they could only look on in amazement as Goosen sent a 49 metre penalty flying through the posts. That made it a 10 point lead and Racing thought they should have had another more points four minutes later.

As the Tigers attacked on half way, Racing’s Puma wing Juan Imhoff raced in for an interception and appeared to knock-on a pass between two Leicester players. Imhoff gathered the loose ball and would have reached the line, but the referee blew up.

The Tigers fans wanted a yellow card but, after a TMO review, it because obvious that Imhoff had not touched the ball. Owens apologised for his error and the game remained in the balance.

The Tigers finally got a try in the last minute of the game, Adam Thompstone handing inside to Telusa Veainu to score. Williams banged over the wide-angled conversion and the Tigers had one final shot at victory from the re-start.

They tried to run out of their 22, but eventually they conceded a penalty in front of their posts and Carter kicked the ball dead to end the game and launch the French celebrations.

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