GRENOBLE TRAVELLED TO Paris last night and snatched a late win over big-spending Racing Métro to keep them within four points of the Top 14 lead.
The match held huge interest to Irish rugby supporters as it featured three players and two coaches from our shores. Grenoble, promoted to the top division in 2012 and coached defensively by Bernard Jackman, won 22 — 20 after forcing two kickable penalties in the last eight minutes.
Replacement outhalf Valentin Courrent was the Grenoble hero as he slotted over the kicks to turn a four point deficit into a two-point win. Racing, expensively assembled by millionaire owner Jacky Lorenzetti, were left ruing their late implosion up front and a missed conversion by their own outhalf, Jonny Sexton.
In fairness to Sexton, a former teammate of Jackman’s at Leinster, he had kicked five penalties and set up the Racing try after putting in a smart kick for flying winger Marc Andreu to chase, and touch, down.
Australian born, Irish-qualified forward Andrew Farley came off the bench in the league victory at Stade Yves-du-Manoir, the star of the piece for Grenoble was their 22-year-old scrumhalf. James Hart was not deemed good enough for the Leinster U20′s a little over two years ago but inspired his team in an impressive 66 minute outing. He kicked two penalties and converted his 48th minute try after the Grenoble forwards turned over an attacking Racing ruck.
Jackman told TheScore.ie, “It’s an astonishing turnaround for James, in less than three years. He has done well with our academy and started this season as our second choice scrumhalf but has kicked on and is pushing for that starting slot now. He is putting big pressure on Valentin.”
Ronan O’Gara and Jonny Sexton will surely have been impressed by the performance of James Hart. INPHO/Harold Cunningham
The victory sees Grenoble seventh in the Top 14 yet a mere four points behind league-leading Montpellier. The minnows are in Amlin Cup action this Thursday but, Jackman reveals, it is not a club priority so a Parisian night out for the playing and coaching staff was heartily sanctioned.
Having drawn at home against 14-man Brive last weekend, the former Leinster and Ireland hooker was delighted with the win on Saturday. He said:
Both tries came from quick turnovers with Jonny showing the world-class player he is for their score. Our second row lost the ball at the collision point. Jonny realised our fullback was in support of our attack and immediately put the ball in behind us. Marc Andreu, who they signed from Castres, has brilliant pace and he finished it off well.”
“In the last 15 minutes,” Jackman added, “our scrum got on top and we got two penalties. That gave us a two point lead and we ran the clock down. Not many teams will go to Racing and get the win so it was a big result for us.”
Jackman caught up with Sexton and Racing backs coach Ronan O’Gara before and after the encounter. He feels Racing are close to finding their best form and just need ‘one good win’ to set them up for the season.
He commented, “I’ve been impressed. You can really see some structure to their play but it’s not clicking for them yet. They are building phases and breaking the opposition down but, unfortunately, are not turning it into points and, importantly, tries.
“They haven’t finalised what to do in the opposition 22 once they get there. When that comes, and with players like Jonny and Maxime Machenaud, and their power up front, they’ll do well.”
As for Grenoble, Jackman believes they can push for a top six place all season if they can keep improving, tactically and physically, in the coming months. As defensive coach, the concession of his side’s first try in three games — set up by his old stablemate at Leinster — rankles.
Nonetheless, training is bright and early on Monday morning and Paris is already memory.