Racing see off Montpellier to set up Clermont semi
TOP 14 REPORT: All Black Joe Rokocoko scored the decisive try as defending champions Racing 92 beat Montpellier 22-13 on Saturday.
This set them up for a Top14 semifinal against beaten European Champions Cup finalists Clermont in Marseille next weekend.
Rokocoko used all his strength to cross in the corner five minutes from time, former New Zealand teammate Dan Carter's conversion drifting just wide to set up an exciting climax to an entertaining game with Montpellier seeking a converted try for victory.
But Racing closed the game down, using a series of pick-and-go's to run down the clock and continue to the next step of their title defence of the Bouclier Brennus.
On Friday, Welsh fullback Leigh Halfpenny scored the crucial late try in a personal haul of 21 points as Toulon beat Castres 26-22 to set up the opening semifinal against La Rochelle.
"We won a good match. We were a little worried beforehand because of what has happened against them [two heavy defeats to Montpellier, including 54-3 on April 22]," said Racing flank Yannick Nyanga.
"We have had some terrible moments this season but we knew we had to stick together."
Nyanga was denied an early try after a wonderful one-handed offload from Fijian giant Leone Nakawara.
But Racing hit back immediately from the line-out of the clearing kick, Nakawara peeling around off Bernard Le Roux's pass into open space to bound over for the opening score, Carter converting.
Montpellier's Timoci Nagusa, also a Fijian, sparked the home team's reply with his own silky handling skills, scrum-half Benoit Paillaugue eventually crashing over after taking a quick tap and go penalty.
Racing, who finished in the sixth and final play-off spot at the end of the regular season, roared back into the lead when Teddy Thomas crossed in the corner after Nyanga gathered a speculative Maxime Machenaud chip and offloaded to the winger.
Antoine Guillamon was denied a try after a great covering tackle, Demetri Catrakilis booting a penalty after Racing strayed offside in the build-up.
Racing centre Henry Chavancy was then on hand to bundle Duhan van der Merwe into touch as he raced down his wing to the line to leave it 14-10 at half-time.
Springbok centre Frans Steyn was yellow carded early in the second period in the worst possible start for Montpellier, but Jake White's side hung in there and conceded no points, Catrakilis even booting a penalty to bring the scores to within one.
Van der Merwe dragged Racing lock Gerbrandt Grobler into touch as Racing turned the screw and Nagusa did well to force Eddy Ben Arous into a knock-on as he crossed the Montpellier line.
Rokocoko then eased the suspense with his try as Montpellier's day worsened with Springbok prop Jannie du Plessis red carded for punching and Carter landing the subsequent penalty.
Top 14 play-off first round results:
Montpellier 13 Racing92 22
Toulon 26 Castres 22
Semifinals (all times GMT)
Friday, May 26:
La Rochelle v Toulon - 19.00; Marseille
Saturday, May 27:
Clermont v Racing 92 - 16.00; Marseille