Racing 92 down Stade to set up Top 14 semi-final

Racing 92 powered to a 38-21 derby victory over Stade Francais in Paris on Friday to set up a French Top 14 semi-final against La Rochelle.

France centre Gael Fickou scored the opening try of the playoff match in the fifth minute, having made a controversial mid-season switch from Stade to Racing in April.

The home side effectively wrapped up a last-four spot in a dominant first half at the Paris La Defense Arena, leading 28-0 at the break.

‘We were especially keen to make a good start,’ said Racing coach Laurent Travers. ‘We knew that we had to keep the ball, increase the playing time and be effective in the rucks.’

Racing, who finished third on the regular-season table, will face La Rochelle in Lille on 18 June.

‘La Rochelle were able to recuperate. It is up to us to respond,’ said Travers.

Table-toppers Toulouse, who beat La Rochelle in the European Champions Cup final, will face either Bordeaux-Begles or Clermont, who play on Saturday, in the other semi-final on 19 June.

Stade Francais, who did manage to salvage some pride with three second-half tries, were always underdogs after an up-and-down season only scraping into the playoffs in sixth place – just a point ahead of Castres.

‘The first 20 minutes cost us a lot,’ said Stade coach Gonzalo Quesada. ‘We lacked control. We made a lot of small mistakes … Racing didn’t seem that calm but I think they were reassured by our errors.’

Racing scrumhalf Maxime Machenaud, who converted all five tries and kicked a second-half penalty, touched down for the home side’s third try inside the first quarter after France wing Teddy Thomas’ score on 11 minutes.

Former Ireland international Simon Zebo grabbed Racing’s fourth try before half time, with Stade down to 13 men with Sefa Naivalu and Paul Alo-Emile in the sin bin.

An embarrassing defeat for the visitors was on the cards when Hassane Kolingar scored Racing’s fifth try and Machenaud’s resulting conversion made it 35-0 less than four minutes after the interval.

But Stade fought back to set up a competitive climax to the contest, with tries from Naivalu, Sekou Macalou and Waisea Nayacalevu, all converted by Joris Segonds.

Racing, though, saw out the last 14 minutes without any further scares, despite a yellow card for Thomas.

© Agence France-Presse

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Craig Lewis