Lions hit ground running at Racing
Lions hit ground running at RacingSHARE
Fresh from shining with the British and Irish Lions in Australia, Jonathan Sexton and Dan Lydiate made their mark on their debut for French top-flight club Racing Metro on Friday.
The Parisian side romped to a 40-28 victory against England's Harlequins in the first edition of the Legion Geneva Challenge, an international club friendly in the Swiss city.
Irishman Sexton, plus Lydiate and his fellow Wales international and Lion Jamie Roberts, are marquee signings who have signed fat contracts with Racing, a club aiming to stake its claim at the summit of French and European rugby.
While Roberts was rested for Friday's game, flyhalf Sexton notched up two conversions in his first appearance in the sky blue and white jersey, with the second coming fittingly after a 35th-minute try by flank Lydiate.
Sexton, 28, who has joined Racing following almost a decade at Irish icons Leinster, admitted that he had felt the pressure ahead of Friday's meeting.
"I was really nervous before the game, even though it was a pre-season game," he said, adding that Racing's general manager Simon Raiwalui had tried to set him straight on the way to the stadium.
"He said, 'You played a Lions Test five weeks ago. How can you be nervous about a pre-season warm-up?' But it's just so different to play in a different team," he said.
"I have to prove myself to all the players, especially the French players, that I'm very proud to play for their team.
"We'll have to take a bit of getting used to each other, I'll have to get used to a few of the guys that I'm playing with and they'll have to do the same as me, but I think it's been a good start."
To help ease his path, Sexton is learning French, and managed to answer a string of questions about Friday's performance in the language, saying he was "tres content".
France's Top 14 gets under way on August 16.
"Now it's time to win some trophies. We're only just starting the season, but it's important that we have that in mind," said Sexton.
Centre Henry Chavancy, a 25-year-old who has been with Racing since his teens, heaped praise on the new recruits.
"I'm really happy to have them here. I think all three of them are going to do great things," he said.
Racing's trainer Laurent Labit said he was more than satisfied with Friday's game against tough rivals Harlequins, who were picked precisely to test his own squad's mettle.
"By definition, we're pleased with the new guys. They've fitted into the squad really well, after a couple of weeks with the team," he said.
Pressed to give points to Sexton and Lydiate's performance, he laughed: "It's a long time since I left school, so I have trouble giving grades to my players.
"But I'm above all pleased with how they've fitted in, and what they bring. We all know their qualities and talents."
Singling out Sexton, Labit said: "He's someone who communicates a lot, who's learning French, who's fast. He's been learning French for four months, and he communicates all the time on the pitch.
"Despite everything that's been said, coming here has been about more than just the financial side. What he's interested in is fitting in, earning the Racing Metro jersey and making history," he said.