Full-time: London Irish 19 Racing Metro 25By Alan Manicom
December 17, 2011
London Irish 19 Racing Metro 25
A last-minute try by David Paice failed to save London Irish from a defeat that all but ensures their elimination from the Heineken Cup.
Up until then Exiles had been unable to open up a French side that had little more than pride to play for at Madejski Stadium.
And although coach Toby Booth's men still have a mathematical chance of topping their pool, it would take such an unlikely set of results that even the most optimistic fan knows their club will not be qualifying for the quarter-finals.
Irish trailed a sterile first half 15-12, all the points coming from the boots of wing Tom Homer and Racing's man-of-the-match Jonathan Wisniewski.
Four times Homer edged Exiles in front with penalties, the first of which was a monster effort from well inside his own half.
But Wisniewski levelled each time before giving Racing a barely deserved half-time lead, courtesy of three penalties and a couple of nonchanently struck drop goals.
And when the fly-half put over his third drop goal soon after the restart to extend the visitors' lead to 18-12, Irish could see the game slipping away from them.
However, as they pushed harder to cross the line, a mistake in midfield led to a breakaway try by Sereli Bobo.
The Racing winger pounced on a loose ball and raced onto his own kick ahead before running from inside his own half to touch down under the posts.
Wisniewski converted to make it 25-12, but then handed Irish a way back into the match when he was yellow carded for a deliberate knock-on five metres from his own line.
Irish will be disappointed that they failed to add to the scoreboard for the 10 minutes they had an extra man on the field.
In the event Racing's resolute defence was only breached in the final play of the game after the clock had stopped when Paice finished off a period of pressure by crossing from close range.
Homer's conversion took his individual points tally to 14 and secured a bonus point that maintains Irish's record of coming away with the bare minimum from all of their games this season.
Booth refused to give up all hope of qualifying, saying: "I never accept that it is over while it is still mathematically possible.
"But if it was hard before, it is certainly harder now.
"When you are pitting your wits up against the best sides in Europe, you have to take your chances and we didn't do that.
"We weren't able to control the tempo of the game and those two factors are very significant.
"We had a lot of possession, but a lot of slow ball too.
"You have to give credit to Racing for that. They were big and physical and they were very methodical in what they did.
"Because it was so stop-start in nature, their big boys were able to recover."
Irish scored four tries in a 34-14 win over Racing Metro in Paris the previous Saturday.
And Booth said: "We went with a specific game plan last week - to play fast and quick - and we were unable to do that this time."
"You have to give them credit for turning that around and controlling the environment we were playing in.
"They did that for long periods so it was more difficult to stretch them, but when we did that we created opportunities.
"It is then that you have to be clinical, but we weren't."
Booth added: "It was all about controlling field position. We would defend valiantly, but they would pop over a drop goal.
"This is an invasion game. It is all about getting into the red zone and getting something from it.
"They did that well in the first half and that meant they were controlling the scoreboard.
"And if you are not controlling the scoreboard you find yourself under pressure.
"The difference (between winning and losing) was their intercept try which we conceded when we were guilty of trying to force the issue when we did not need to.
"But it all still came down to them controlling the tempo of the game - and you can defend all day against slow ball at this level."
For Irish to have any chance of progressing they need to now win at home to Cardiff Blues and away in Edinburgh next month and hope that Metro win both their final games too.
Booth joked: "I'll be sending every game plan I have across the Channel and see where that takes us!"
But the Exiles coach has no doubts about where his side's failings have been in this season's competition,adding: "We have not picked up what we need to at home."
To see how today's match unfolded, click below:
London Irish: 15 Delon Armitage, 14 Tom Homer, 13 Joe Ansbro, 12 Jonathan Spratt, 11 Adam Thompstone, 10 Adrian Jarvis, 9 Darren Allinson, 8 Ofisa Treviranus, 7 Jamie Gibson, 6 Declan Danaher, 5 Matthew Garvey, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 Paulica Ion, 2 David Paice, 1 Clarke Dermody.
Replacements: 16 Brian Blaney, 17 Max Lahiff, 18 Faan Rautenbach, 19 Bob Casey, 20 Richard Thorpe, 21 Topsy Ojo, 22 Shontayne Hape, 23 Paul Hodgson.
Racing Metro: 15 Gaetan Germain, 14 Julien Saubade, 13 Virimi Vakatawa, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Sereli Bobo, 10 Jonathan Wisniewski, 9 Nicolas Durand, 8 Sebastien Chabal, 7 Alvaro Galindo, 6 Remi Vaquiin, 5 Francois van der Merwe, 4 Santiago Dellape, 3 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 2 Thomas Bianchin, 1 Julien Brugnaut.
Replacements: 16 Benjamin Noirot, 17 Mikaele Tuugahala, 18 Johannes Coetzee, 19 Jone Qovu Nailiko, 20 Sebastien Descons, 21 Juan Martin Hernandez, 22 Bernard Le Roux, 23 Karim Ghezal.