Leinster 15-12 Racing 92: Late Isa Nacewa penalty secures Champions Cup
By Michael Cantillon at San Mames Stadium
Last Updated: 13/05/18 4:35pm
An Isa Nacewa penalty with just 90 seconds remaining saw Leinster defeat Racing 92 15-12 in a try-less and rain-sodden Champions Cup final in Bilbao.
The victory sees Leinster secure a record-equalling fourth European Cup crown, but the defeat was agonising for Racing, who led on four separate occasions.
The accurate left foot of Teddy Iribaren pushed Racing into slender leads again and again, but the ill-discipline of the Parisians combined with a resolute Leinster rearguard eventually told.
Johnny Sexton had kept Leinster in touch with three penalties, but after two misses, Nacewa took over the kicking and was on hand to strike the vital blow in the final European club game of his career.
Racing hit the front after just three minutes but it came at a considerable cost when, already shorn of half-backs Maxime Machenaud and Dan Carter, fly-half Pat Lambie injured his right knee in the first outside break of the match.
In the same attack, Garry Ringrose was penalised for a high tackle on Racing centre Virimi Vakatawa though and scrum-half Iribaren struck a superb penalty from distance for a 3-0 lead.
In the 16th minute, Leinster drew level through a Sexton penalty after Racing were caught offside in their own 22 following an incisive Nacewa break.
Racing had started the brighter though and in quick succession Teddy Thomas, Camille Chat and Henry Chavancy came close to breakaway tries - the initial two called back for earlier Racing infringements, the latter dropping the ball when an intercept try was on.
The Top 14 outfit didn't have to wait long to go back into the lead, however, when after Leinster were penalised for collapsing a Racing maul, Iribaren stepped up to split the uprights again.
A tight and physical affair saw chances at a premium, so when Sexton turned down a routine shot at goal for a quick tap with eight minutes of the first period remaining, it proved the wrong decision as Chat stole in to win a breakdown turnover.
Racing looked likely to edge into the break 6-3 to the good, but in the final minute of the half second row Leone Nakarawa gave away a soft penalty for a deliberate knock on, and based on replays was exceptionally fortunate to avoid a yellow card.
Sexton dispatched the simple effort to leave the game finely poised at half-time.
Racing started the second half in a similar vain to the first and enjoyed a prolonged spell in the Leinster 22 inside the first five minutes, ultimately kicking three more points through Iribaren to retake the lead after Leinster were pinged for failing to roll away.
But after Nakarawa was caught offside in midfield, Eddy Ben Arous threw the ball away in a piece of petulance which referee Wayne Barnes was never going to let slide.
Despite the penalty being marched forward 10 metres, Sexton was off cue with his effort as he failed to connect with the ball properly and scuffed it short and wide.
Within a couple of minutes, Sexton made no mistake with an effort from slightly closer in when Racing replacement hooker Ole Avei was penalised for a tackle off the ball, leaving the scores level again.
On 57 minutes, Leinster had a chance to take the lead for the first time but Sexton missed another effort from distance after Tales found himself trapped in a ruck and in the way of the ball.
With 15 minutes remaining, it was Iribaren's turn to miss a kick for the lead when he sliced an effort near halfway wide after Dan Leavy had caught Chavancy high.
Leinster had to withstand heavy Racing pressure in their own 22 soon after but a staunch defence just kept the Parisians at bay.
With 70 minutes on the clock, Racing forced a penalty at maul time and Iribaren struck the ball beautifully for a slender lead once more - the fourth such time Racing edged in front.
Once again Leinster pegged them straight back almost immediately though, when Racing conceded a penalty for going in at the side and Nacewa - not Sexton - stepped up to split the poles.
With just minutes left on the clock, Leinster gained the lead for the first time in the final when Racing were adjudged offside for the umpteenth time and Nacewa popped over a simple effort with barely any time left.
Having won the restart, Racing still managed to create a drop goal opportunity for Tales but his wild effort drifted wide, prompting Leinster delirium.
Fair play to Leinster. They were nowhere near their best in a game which was far from the spectacle most expected, but they got over the line. The had the will and the guts to keep plugging away.
A record-equalling fourth European Cup - all since 2009 - and only the second team in history (after Saracens in 2016) to win all nine games en route to the final.
And has there been a tougher run? Leinster overcame the current leaders of all three domestic competitions in Montpellier, Exeter Chiefs and Glasgow Warriors home and away, beat the double reigning European champions Saracens, the reigning PRO12/14 champions the Scarlets and the puzzle that is Racing. Hats off.
A word too for Racing scrum-half Teddy Iribaren. No one even so much as mentioned his name in the lead up to the final after Machenaud's untimely injury but he was a key contender for the best player on the park. A lovely left boot and calmness personified.
How unlucky have Racing been with injuries over the last fortnight or so?
Since their highly-impressive quarter-final and semi-final victories over Clermont and Munster, the Parisians have been haemorrhaging top performers.
First they lost scrum-half, captain and 90 percent place-kicker Maxime Machenaud and talisman Dimitri Szarzewski to knee and arm injuries respectively in their Top 14 clash at Bordeaux.
Then on the day of the final, Dan Carter pulled out with a hamstring injury, robbing him of a shot at the only trophy he has yet to win in his glittering career.
Racing's starting fly-half Pat Lambie then suffered a serious knee injury inside three minutes, while lineout leader Donnacha Ryan sustained a knock to his left shoulder after hitting the ground hard early in the match, hampering him at the set-piece for a considerable spell.
If it wasn't for bad luck, they'd have had no luck at all...
Often in a match as significant as this, it's a little moment which can turn the tide.
When Nakarawa pinched a late lineout, Racing looked at least likely to get to extra time, but Teddy Thomas ran down a blind alley and was scragged into touch. From there Leinster built and earned their winning shot at goal.
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