Racing 92 completed a home-and-away double over Leicester Tigers in Pool 4 of the Heineken Champions Cup with a 34-11 victory at Welford Road on Sunday lunchtime.
After Tigers had taken the lead with an early George Ford penalty, they conceded two tries in the opening quarter-hour through Teddy Iribaren and Juan Imhoff and then a third on 20 minutes from Virimi Vakatawa as Racing consolidated their place at the top of Pool 4.
George Worth, capitalising on work from Manu Tuilagi and Adam Thompstone out wide, scored for Tigers on the half-hour to bring it back to 11-24 at half-time. But the second half brought more of a stalemate with defences dominating and there was a single score – from a Russell penalty – until the last seconds when Imhoff added a bonus-point score for the visitors.
Racing, last season’s Champions Cup finalists, won the opening meeting of the teams in Paris, scoring five tries in a 36-26 victory at the La Defense Arena last Sunday, though Tigers did take a try bonus point for a second successive pool fixture following the home win over the Scarlets in October.
There was a late change to the Tigers line-up with Worth called in at full-back after the withdrawal of Jonah Holmes. The return of Graham Kitchener in the second row was the only other change from last week's starting team, with Gareth Owen and Facundo Gigena called up to the bench.
It was Tigers who got the game under way after a minute’s silence in honour of Stade Francais teenager Nicolas Chauvin who tragically died recently.
After knocking-on from the opening lineout, Tigers re-gathered composure with two strong scrums and patience in attack before Ford gave them a three-point lead with a penalty after five minutes.
The last lasted only two minutes, though, as drives among the forwards took Racing up to the tryline and, despite a saving tackle from Tuilagi on Simon Zebo, scrum-half Iribaren darted over. Russell’s conversion kick made it 3-7.
A knock-on inside their own 22 had Racing on the defensive from the restart, but they were awarded a penalty as the scrum went down as Tigers tried to regain the initiative.
The award also led to a second try for the visitors, playing quickly across the width of the pitch from Russell's half-break and wing Imhoff ran in on the left. The conversion from out wide gave them a 3-14 advantage on the quarter-hour mark.
Tigers responded with a series of phases in attack, Tuilagi having half a glance at an opening on the edge before play was brought back for an illegal tackle on Sione Kalamafoni. Ford pointed to goal and added the three points.
Russell replied in kind a minute later when referee George Clancy penalised Tigers in possession on the floor to make it 6-17 with a quarter of the 80 minutes gone.
They stretched that advantage with a third try, this time from Vakatawa following a length-of-the-field break, with Bernard Le Roux brought down by Ford just short but having the support for the pop-pass to score. Russell kicked his third conversion to make it 6-24.
Tigers were called for a high tackle at the restart, but Racing missed touch and then knocked-on near halfway. Scrum-half Ben White attacked down the blindside but the Racing defence stood firm and eventually earned a penalty as they contested the tackle area.
Strong work from Brendon O’Connor halted dangerous progress from Racing as play approached the half-hour mark, winning a penalty just 20 metres from his own tryline.
From Ford’s kick down the left, an adventurous thrown got Tuilagi attacking the defensive line and Tigers had another penalty when Iribaren obstructed O’Connor on the left. Tigers got through their phases of possession, but Racing forced a handing error close to their five-metre line and the chance had gone.
Another one quickly followed as ball off the top of a lineout allowed Tigers to quickly go to the right, where Tuilagi burst through and, although Adam Thompstone was stopped fractionally short, Worth was there to pick and score.
Referee Clancy checked the proximity of the touchline and the grounding before confirming the try, though there was no sanction for what looked like high contact on Thompstone. Ford was unable to add an extra two points with the conversion as Tigers brought the score to 11-24 on 33 minutes.
Jonny May thought he was on a run to the tryline moments later, though the pass from Toomua was adjudged to have gone forward. Play, nevertheless, came back for a high tackle on White and Tigers played into the right-hand corner from the penalty with the home crowd warming to the task with their encouragement.
A big drive threatened the tryline before Racing lock Leone Nakarawa was penalised and they remained in the corner for another set-piece with 30 seconds of the half remaining.
Racing, though, stole the lineout and played out time as they reached the interval 24-11 in front.
Tigers missed their lineout man again just five metres out at the start of the second half and paid the price when Russell added a three-pointer at the end of a scrappy period in the game on 48 minutes.
A cheeky bobbling kick from Ford gave Jonny May something to chase and, when the defender missed the bounce, he was unlucky to see it cannon off his arm for a knock-on as he dived to grab it just five metres out.
Ben Youngs and Jake Kerr emerged from the bench on 53 minutes and the England scrum-half made a trademark break from a tap penalty before the referee whistled against Tigers at the breakdown.
Racing were able to take the sting out of that attack as they kicked up to halfway but prop Ben Tameifuna spilled ball under pressure and Tigers were able to set a platform from the scrum. Ford and Toomua continued to prompt in midfield but Racing stood up in defence with Iribaren dotting down behind his own line when May kicked ahead on the left.
Dan Cole was penalised for leading with his arm as he took contact in attack and, after watching the replays numerous times, the referee showed a yellow card to the Tigers prop.
A crunching hit from Spencer ended Zebo’s progress through the middle and Tigers were able to clear after a neck roll was penalised.
Cole returned to the field on 70 minutes and was quickly called into action in defence but there was little flow to the game with Racing protecting their lead and Tigers unable to find a decisive chance in attack.
Finally, Racing made a quick counter-attack and scored through Imhoff with just seconds remaining and Russell kicked the extras to close out a bonus-point win.