Champions Cup: Racing 92 withstand Marcus Smith-inspired Harlequins comeback to keep hopes alive

 Credit: Alamy
Credit: Alamy

Racing 92 maintained their hopes of qualifying for the last-16 of the Champions Cup after overcoming Harlequins 30-29 on Sunday.

The French outfit dominated the opening 45 minutes and went 21-3 ahead through Gael Fickou, Kitione Kamikamica and Francis Saili tries.

Quins were struggling – with just a Marcus Smith penalty their only score in the first half – but the playmaker, on his first game back from injury, inspired a response.

Danny Care got them back into the game with a try before Smith’s break set up Cadan Murley to reduce the arrears to four points.

The England fly-half would end up winning the player of the match award but he would not be on the winning team.

Finn Russell kicked two three-pointers to give the Parisians a 27-22 advantage – another Murley score keeping Quins in contention – before a frenetic finish ensued.

Racing had three players sin-binned in quick succession as Donovan Taofifenua, Eddy Ben Arous and Russell were yellow carded, with the latter resulting in a penalty try for the English outfit.

It meant Harlequins led with four minutes remaining but they infringed at the restart and Nolann Le Garrec kicked the winning points.

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Coming into the game the Top 14 side had not won for five games and needed to take something from the game to keep alive their faint hopes of reaching the last 16. They have to go to Dublin to face unbeaten Leinster in the final pool round.

From the Harlequins perspective, they will need to beat the Sharks at home to keep them in with a chance of going into the knock-out stage.

Racing got off to a flying start with skipper Fickou crossing for the first of the game’s seven tries. By the break they were 14-3 ahead after a second try from replacement Kamikamica.

They took a mere 17 seconds of the second half to added another when Saili crossed against his former team-mates.

That left the Quins with a mountain to climb at 18 points down and their fightback was hindered by yellow cards for Aaron Morris and skipper Alex Dombrandt and two tries ruled out for being held up.

The return of Smith at number 10 was a huge boost and he showed new England coach Steve Borthwick that he is ready to return to international action with two great breaks and a fine all-round kicking display. Smith had not played since the Autumn Nations Series but looked sharp in his Calcutta Cup preview against Russell.

Care launched the comeback with a try from close range and Smith added the extras. Then Murley got the first of his second-half brace to cut the gap to four points with Smith’s second conversion.

Russell kicked a penalty to ease the pressure but Quins managed to grab another Murley try despite being short-handed with Dombrandt still on the sidelines. That score gave Smith another touchline conversion attempt to level things up, but he pushed his kick inches wide to the left.

Another Russell penalty made it 27-22 with 11 minutes to go before Racing’s indiscipline seemed to sink their hopes.

Taofifenua was the first to go, then Ben Arous and finally Russell after his deliberate knock-on led to a penalty try.

It looked as though Quins were going to take the full five points, but then came the last shot for glory by Le Garrec.

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