Can Racing handle the pace?
Tue, 03 Sep 2013 09:27
It seems like we're wearing a lead cape on our shoulders
Lauded in pre-season as potential Top 14 title challengers after a high-profile summer recruitment programme, it has been un uncomfortable start for Racing Metro this season.
And it is about to get even tougher as they face their second trip to the lion's den within 10 days as Toulouse await the Parisians at their Ernest-Wallon stadium on Wednesday.
A rare full midweek fixture programme will prove challenging for all the Top 14 teams as they juggle their playing resources to keep their teams fresh despite most facing three matches in eight days.
All eyes once again will be on the expensively-assembled Racing side who have thus far struggled to gel, despite winning two out of their three matches.
However, both of those have been narrow home successes against newly-promoted Brive and then Oyonnax on Saturday.
Racing trailed last season's second division champions for most of the game before exploiting a numerical advantage late on to pull clear and eventually breach the tryline in the dying moments of a 22-9 win.
But it was far from convincing and did little to wipe out the memory of their 41-14 humbling at European champions Toulon the week before.
Another away trip to title challengers awaits and coach Laurent Labit knows Racing must first overcome their own deficiencies before they will be able to compete.
"We need to be more effective at the beginning of the match and especially in the rucks, where we lacked reactivity and aggression (against Oyonnax)," said Labit, one of two Racing coaches alongside Laurent Travers.
"There was a lot of imprecision and waste. We didn't manage to set the rhythm we needed.
"It seems like we're wearing a lead cape on our shoulders and we're struggling to play freely.
"We're always arriving late, we lack consistency.
"(Against Toulouse) we're up against ourselves and we need to do a lot better than at the beginning of the season."
If there is a caveat to their own mediocre form, it is that Toulouse have not impressed either, being beaten away to Bordeaux-Begles and Clermont, although they did record an impressive 40-3 home win over Bayonne, who currently sit third after winning both their home games, just over a week ago.
Toulouse, who at 10th sit three places behind Racing, will be aiming to compete for 80 minutes on Wednesday, something they didn't manage at the Marcel Michelin stadium on Saturday.
After an hour they were trailing the league favourites by just one point but then conceded 18 unanswered points in a 15-minute spell that saw them lose 38-19.
Versatile back Maxime Medard says they need to improve all round rather than just in the breakdown, where they were often second best.
"We can't just point to the breakdown, everyone made mistakes. They are all mistakes that we have to eradicate against Racing Metro," Medard said.
In other games early Top 14 leaders Stade Francais travel to reigning champions Castres, currently sitting eighth.
There is a bottom of the table clash as basement sitters Oyonnax host 13th-placed Biarritz.
Toulon, who saw the last unbeaten record in the league disappear at Grenoble on Saturday as Jonny Wilkinson missed a last gasp conversion to salvage a draw, host Brive while second-placed Clermont entertain Bayonne.
Top 14 fixtures, Wednesday September 4 (all times GMT):
Castres v Stade Francais (16.45)
Bordeaux-Begles v Montpellier (17.00)
Clermont v Bayonne (17.00)
Oyonnax v Biarritz (17.00)
Perpignan v Grenoble (17.00)
Toulon v Brive(17.00)
Toulouse v Racing Metro (19.05)
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