Northampton Saints 14 Racing 92 45: Tom Vickers' review and player ratings

Stop me if you think you've heard this one before.

By Tom Vickers
Saturday, 11th December 2021, 1:31 am
Updated Saturday, 11th December 2021, 1:32 am
Courtnall Skosan scored for Saints against Racing 92
Courtnall Skosan scored for Saints against Racing 92

Saints, yet again, in a December home Champions Cup clash were outclassed and left scratching their heads as to what went wrong.

Racing 92 were rampant as they, well, raced, to victory at cinch Stadium at Franklin's Gardens on Friday night.

Because while Saints won the possession battle - amazingly they had 55 per cent of it - they were completely outdone on the scoreboard, shipping five tries in total.

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But it is far from the first time something like this has happened to them in Europe's top tier competition in the final month of the year.

In 2012, Ulster demolished them at the Gardens.

In 2013, it was Leinster.

In 2016, it was Leinster again.

In 2017, it was Ospreys.

In 2019, yes, you guessed it, it was Leinster again.

And on each of those occasions Saints shipped at least 25 points, often a lot more.

In fact, Saints have now only won one December Champions Cup home game in nine attempts, and that was a 67-0 success against Italian minnows Benetton Treviso in 2014.

It has, quite simply, been a tale of woe.

For a club that feels it should be able to compete on the biggest stage, it really is a painful record.

And the worst thing is that Saints don't look to be getting any closer to truly rattling the cages of the European elite.

They have had some good wins over the years, not least the revenge missions at Ulster and Leinster, and the wins against Lyon under Chris Boyd.

But Saints still seem to be oceans away from being able to consistently compete rather than winning the odd big game here and there.

There are many reasons for that, the main one being money.

As the saying goes - it talks.

And it spoke very loudly on Friday night.

Racing 92 named an all-start backline that was up there with the best the Champions Cup has ever seen.

Maxime Machenaud, Finn Russell, Juan Imhoff, Gael Fickou, Virimi Vakatawa, Teddy Thomas and Kurtley Beale would get into most of Europe's best sides.

And, given the freedom of Franklin's Gardens, they prospered as expected.

Saints made error after error to give them the possession and territory they needed early in the game to rack up the kind of scoreline the many fans who didn't head to the Gardens, and the rather small amount who did, had feared.

And with Saints so often struggling when they are made to chase a game - as shown during the derby-day defeat to Leicester Tigers in October - things went from bad to worse.

Panic set in almost immediately and while Racing appeared to have all the time in the world to thrive, Saints seemed to be so rushed.

It meant they lost the composure that is crucial to their game plan, and Racing's galacticos took advantage in ruthless fashion.

The refereeing didn't help, but Mike Adamson wasn't the main reason Saints lost this.

They came up against a much higher class of opposition than anything they have faced in the Gallagher Premiership this season.

And the class told.

While Saints struggled under pressure, particularly in defence once again, Racing made hay while the sun shone.

And that put them in a position where they could make Saints work so hard for very little reward.

To make things worse, the hosts lost Dan Biggar and Tommy Freeman to injury.

And with a top-three place still in their pocket in the Premiership, they will be desperate to avoid more damage to their squad when they face Ulster in Belfast on Friday.

It would be lovely for fans to go over there expecting their side to repeat the heroics of 2012, when Saints bounced back from a big home defeat to Ulster and won at Ravenhill.

But in truth, the travelling will be done more in hope than expectation again, with Champions Cup quarter-final qualification already a distant dream.

How they rated...

GEORGE FURBANK

Some of his kicking didn't work out as hoped as Racing kept coming back at Saints, and he did miss some tackles, but he did collect more carries and metres than any other Saint... 4.5

TOMMY FREEMAN

Was a picture of pain when he was forced off with an unlucky shoulder injury late on and this was a night to forget for the hugely talented youngster... 4.5

MATT PROCTOR

Battled as well as he could as he continues to try to return to full fitness, and took the fight to Racing when he could... 5

FRASER DINGWALL

Created a try for Courtnall Skosan with a brilliant piece of improvisation and execution, and also grabbed a score of his own as he desperately tried to drive his team forward... 6

COURTNALL SKOSAN

Scored yet another try but opportunities in space were few and far between and he was called upon to make plenty of tackles... 5

DAN BIGGAR

Was playing through the pain again, but Racing were too good and they played on any weakness. This man had to limp off early in the second period with the game already gone... 4.5

ALEX MITCHELL

Found his composure after a frantic start, but Racing's linespeed stopped him being able to create as he so often does... 5

NICK AUTERAC

Had Racing players running at him from all angles during the first half and it was a tough night for the Saints forwards... 4.5

SAM MATAVESI

His night started with a risky chip inside his own 22 and though he tried to carry the fight to Racing, it was a tough evening... 4.5

EHREN PAINTER

Not really a night for the tighthead prop to excel as the Racing pack was not easy to overpower... 4.5

DAVID RIBBANS

Saw the ball slip from his grasp a couple of times and found himself on the wrong side of the referee, but made more tackles than any other Saints player and carried hard... 5

API RATUNIYARAWA

Tried to use his physicality but was met with fierce resistance, and some of his passing wasn't as accurate as it usually is... 5

KARL WILKINS

Had impressed against Bath on the previous weekend but couldn't really have a big say in this game... 4.5

LEWIS LUDLAM

As ever, the skipper gave everything for the cause, ranking in the top three in most Saints categories, and he was unlucky to see a try ruled out... 6

JUARNO AUGUSTUS

It may not have been an easy night for Saints but there were still signs of this man's power and ability... 5.5

Replacements (who played more than 20 minutes)

OLLIE SLEIGHTHOLME (for Biggar 46)

Couldn't make an impact as the game was already fading away from Saints and one of his kicks went straight out before he was harshly penalised for obstruction... 4.5

RORY HUTCHINSON (for Proctor 46)

Not an easy game to come into but he still tried to play with his natural style when in possession, even if the Racing defence gave him little time... 5

ALEX WALLER (for Auterac 49)

Would have hoped to come on and help his team over the line but his experience wasn't to count for anything as Saints fell to defeat... 5

TOM WOOD (for Wilkins 49)

Good for Saints to have this man back from a foot injury and he looked hungry to introduce himself to the Racing players... 5.5

JAMES FISH (for Matavesi 51)

Was steady enough after coming on but there was little that could be done about the outcome... 5

FRANK LOMANI (for Mitchell 55)

Really got some fizz on his passes and that helped Saints to apply a little more pressure, but there were few avenues to exploit... 5.5

CHRON STAR MAN - Wenceslas Lauret (Racing 92)