European Champions Cup – Pool Four Racing 92 (19) 22Tries: Nakarawa, Le Roux, Thomas Con: Iribaren 2 Pen: MachenaudLeicester (15) 18Tries: Hamilton, May Con: Ford Pen: Ford 2
Leicester came up just short in their Champions Cup opener as three tries in quick succession in the first half proved decisive for Racing 92 in Paris.
Luke Hamilton crossed after three minutes for Tigers, but scores from Leone Nakarawa, Bernard Le Roux and Teddy Thomas opened a nine-point lead.
Jonny May raced in just before the break to cut the deficit, but only managed a penalty after the interval.
Matt O’Connor’s side take a losing bonus point as consolation.
Closer, but no cigar
Leicester on their last visit to Stade Olympique Yves-du-Manoir, but they were never out of contention in a nip-and-tuck encounter this time around.
Flanker Hamilton made hay as the hosts got off to a spluttering start, scuttling over after Nick Malouf’s feet had drawn in a trio of tacklers and opened a huge hole in the defence.
Three tries in 11 minutes swung the momentum back in Racing’s direction, but, just when it seemed Tigers were hanging on for half-time, a yellow card for Virimi Vakatawa handed them a way back into the game.
With the French centre sin-binned for a high tackle, May took immediate advantage, surging round a floundering Patrick Lambie to score his seventh try in seven games for his new club.
The visitors could even have gone into the interval ahead but the ball was dislodged from his hands as the tryline loomed.
But Leicester’s strike runners could not breach a refocused Racing defence as the game grew more cagey after the break and they were left hanging on as the French side finished the match deep in the visitors 22m in search of a fourth try and a bonus point of their own.
Nakarawa’s quality shines through
It was ultimately Racing’s off-loading game that proved Leicester’s undoing and in second row Nakarawa they have one of the game’s finest exponents.
The Fiji forward, who moved to Paris from Glasgow Warriors at the start of last season, stretched over to defy two tacklers and score Racing’s first try.
He was also central in the build-up to Le Roux and Thomas’ tries, combining deft hands with vision to give Racing’s attack irresistible momentum.
Castres meet Munster on Sunday in Pool Four’s other match on the tournament’s opening weekend.
Leicester can take a lot from today, but could have taken a whole lot more if they had got one more try.
George Ford was impressive again, his kicking out of hand was superb but he has also really improved his defence. He is close to being the complete fly-half.
Champions Cup opening-round coverageSaturday 17:15 BST, 5 live sports extraHarlequins v La RochelleSaturday 19:30 BST, 5 live sports extraExeter v GlasgowSunday 15:10 BST, 5 live sports extra & Radio WalesToulon v ScarletsSunday 17:15 BST, 5 live sports extraNorthampton v SaracensSunday 17:30 BST, BBC Radio WalesOspreys v Clermont
‘Nakarawa was the difference’ – coach quotes
Leicester head coach Matt O’Connor: “Leone Nakarawa got behind us and that was the difference.”
“There’s a lot of disappointment in the dressing room. But if we had come away empty-handed then it would have been a waste of an afternoon.
“Thankfully we got a game point out of it, you stay alive in the group, and we come back to Welford Road next week against Castres. We have got to put out another big performance then.”
Racing 92: Juan Imhoff, Teddy Thomas, Virimi Vakatawa, Henry Chavancy, Joe Rokocoko, Remi Tales, Teddy Iribaren; Viliamu Afatia, Dimitri Szarzewski (c), Census Johnston, Bernard Le Roux, Leone Nakarawa, Wenceslas Lauret, Baptiste Chouzenoux, Yannick Nyanga
Replacements: Camille Chat, Eddy Ben Arous, Cedate Gomes Sa, Manuel Carizza, Edwin Maka, Maxime Machenaud, Patrick Lambie, Anthony Tuitavke
Leicester: Telusa Veainu, Nick Malouf, Matt Smith, Matt Toomua, Jonny May, George Ford, Ben Youngs; Ellis Genge. Tom Youngs (c), Dan Cole, Dom Barrow, Graham Kitchener, Mike Williams, Luke Hamilton, Sione Kalamafoni
Replacements: George McGuigan, Greg Bateman, Pat Cilliers, Dan Tuohy, Brendon O’Connor, Ben White, Joe Ford, Mathew Tait