It is hard to think of a more stylish, attractive and joyous rugby club in world rugby than Racing 92 at present. Everything, from their incredible indoor La Défense Arena, to their iconic kit and electric running game screams inventive, glamorous, exciting. They are a team in Finn Russel’s image, wonderfully unpredictable, mercurial at their best, but with that steely inner resolve that reveals their ambition too.
Against Munster on Sunday they took a while to get going, but when the magic began to happen they were truly irresistible. It is unlikely anyone will throw a better pass than Teddy Iribaren’s audacious thirty metre arrow from the back of his hand that set up Teddy Thomas for his first score. That was a moment that summed Racing up: daring, brilliant, ruthless. If you’ve not seen it, please, please go and check it out.
What is wonderfully refreshing, too, is the fun they all seem to be having. Virimi Vakatawa has matured into a first rate outside centre. He was absolutely electric against Munster, impossible to contain.
So big, so strong, fast and agile, and yet seemed always to be making the right decision, to never be forcing it, to be expressing himself but from within the boundaries of his capacity. Their was a joy and an energy to his game, he never stopped smiling throughout, but a control and measure there too. It was a spectacular individual display.
Occasionally, in and amongst the cynicism and scepticism it is easy to feel about rugby as a professional sport, a game geared to the production of profit and advancement of a few elite individuals, there are moments when it all suddenly makes sense, the doubts drift away, and you just sit back and enjoy. That was how I felt watching Racing at the weekend. As a club, they may be awash with money, but they are not cold or clinical or soulless, instead there is a character on show that is immensely likeable.
Against a tough but turgid Munster side, they seemed like a team from the future. The Irish, on the other hand, seemed like a side from a bygone era, all huff and puff with no incision. They worked incredibly hard, Munster, but the dynamism, the speed of mind and foot, was missing.
On the other hand, with the TV screen at one end of the stadium, the spectacle of lights, the drama of the contest, if there was ever a club who ‘got’ what it is to be a modern sporting brand, it is Racing. And yet they do not do it at the expense of perfomance. It is easy to dismiss them as frivolous, but they took apart Munster with ease. If they seem confident to the point of cocky, then so be it, because look at the talent, the speed, the physicality on display.
Whatever happens in the rest of this tournament, if you get a chance to watch Racing, stick them on, soak it in, because they play the game as it should be played.
Written by Joe Ronan.