Dan Carter converted Juan Imhoff's try at the end of extra time to hand Racing a 34-33 Top 14 semi-final victory over Clermont in Rennes on Friday. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.
After going 33-27 behind in the second half of extra time, Imhoff scored in a chaotic sequence of play, and with the Clermont players descending upon him, Carter showed nerves of steel to nail the match-winning kick.
The teams had been deadlocked at 27-27 on the 80-minute mark, with Clermont fullback Scott Spedding kicking a raking penalty in the 87th minute before replacement flyhalf Brock James launched an unbelievable drop goal from the halfway mark.
All the momentum was with Clermont and they pinned Racing back inside their own half, but a superb play by Juandré Kruger led to a dramatic end to the game. The South African lock came off his defensive line to intercept the ball and released Imhoff down the left wing to score the all-important try.
For so long Clermont were the pacesetters of the Top 14 and deservedly finished at the top of the standings. But one blight on their otherwise splendid round-robin campaign was losing twice to Racing for the first time since 1995. And they were eliminated by the same Racing side in the semi-finals, even if it took the visitors 120 minutes to do it.
This was a game of high tension and high quality plays from both sides, but in the end Racing’s A-list lineup, assembled from across the globe, had too much class and experience to be denied, with fullback Brice Dulin and outside centre Johan Goosen at the forefront of the victory.
Flyhalf Camille Lopez’s drop goal put Clermont ahead after they had applied all the early pressure. But Racing responded with 16 unanswered points, with Goosen having a hand in all but three. In between Racing’s clinical points accumulation, centre Wesley Fofana scored a wonder try, but it was disallowed after replays on the big screen confirmed the final pass had gone forward.
After Carter drew the teams level at 3-3, Goosen won his team another penalty when he was checked as he tried to chase a kick and Carter made it 6-3. The 24-year-old then read play beautifully when he smashed Noa Nakaitaci in midfield and walked over the ball to earn another shot at goal for Carter, who nailed the kick.
Momentum was now firmly with Racing and when a grubber was threaded through for Imhoff to chase, luck also turned their way. The winger and Clermont’s Nakaitaci were toe to toe in pursuit of the ball, but both overran it and Goosen applied downward pressure in the in-goal area for the game’s opening try.
Clermont showed their class with a 10-point flurry just before the break via a Morgan Parra penalty and a try off the back of a driving maul by No 8 Fritz Lee that cut Racing’s lead to 16-11 at the changeover.
Two penalties from Lopez saw the lead change hands early in the second half, but Joe Rocokoko then ripped through the hosts' defence to score a try. Scrumhalf Maxime Machenaud expertly switched the angle of play with a pop pass to the former All Blacks wing, who ran a brilliant line to dive over in the corner.
Carter skewed the conversion, but from the restart Racing’s forwards rumbled their way back into opposition territory and won a penalty. Goosen stepped up to take the long-range kick and succeeded before Lopez and Carter traded penalties again for a 27-20 scoreline.
Fofana then levelled the scores when he burrowed over for a converted try after Scott Spedding had set a lineout on the 5m line.
Racing had opportunities to win it in the final stages of normal time, but wasted two multiphase attacks. Clermont, meanwhile, did all they could to survive and take the game into extra time.
But Racing's big-name players stood up in the dying seconds of extra time to book a place in next weekend’s final at Camp Nou in Barcelona.
Clermont – Tries: Fritz Lee, Wesley Fofana. Conversion: Camille Lopez. Penalties: Morgan Parra, Lopez (3), Scott Spedding. Drop goal: Lopez, Brock James.
Racing 92 – Tries: Johan Goosen, Joe Rokocoko, Juan Imhoff. Conversions: Dan Carter (2). Penalties: Carter (4), Goosen.
Clermont – 15 Scott Spedding, 14 David Strettle, 13 Aurélien Rougerie, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Nick Abendanon, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Alexandre Lapandry, 6 Damien Chouly, 5 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Daniel Kotze, 2 John Ulugia, 1 Raphaël Chaume.
Subs: 16 Pellow van der Westhuizen, 17 Thomas Domingo, 18 Paul Jedrasiak, 19 Viktor Kolelishvili, 20 Ludovic Radosavljevic, 21 Brock James, 22 Noa Nakaitaci, 23 Davit Zirakashvili.
Racing 92 – 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Joe Rokocoko, 13 Johan Goosen, 12 Henry Chavancy, 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Chris Masoe, 7 Yannick Nyanga, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Manuel Carizza, 4 Bernard Le Roux, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Eddy Ben Arous.
Subs: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Khatchik Vartanov, 18 Juandré Kruger, 19 Antonie Claassen, 20 Xavier Chauveau, 21 Marc Andreu, 22 Albert Vulivuli, 23 Luc Ducalcon.
Photo: Damien Meyer/AFP Photo