Leicester Tigers were beaten 36-26 by Racing 92 in Pool 4 of the Heineken Champions Cup in Paris on Sunday but returned home with a try bonus after scoring four times in the unique surrounds of the La Defense Arena.
It was scant reward for a battling and enterprising performance from Tigers who twice found themselves a man short due to yellow cards.
Racing were 12 points to the good with two tries during a period when Manu Tuilagi was in the sin-bin early on, but Tigers got a foothold in the game with a first try of the season for Jonah Holmes who then left the field with an injury.
Two more tries for the French side secured their bonus point just after the half-hour before Tigers, who were well in the game throughout the opening 40 minutes, responded with Sione Kalamafoni’s close-range try to make it 26-14 at the interval.
Tigers also claimed the opening score of the second half with a try from Tuilagi, showing pace and power on the touchline to bring it back to 26-19.
But a penalty from Finn Russell provided some vital daylight before a fifth score from Racing and, although Adam Thompstone ran in a bonus-point score for the visitors after superb work from skipper George Ford, they could not find another one in closing moments to take an extra consolation.
Playing in the unique indoor surroundings and artificial pitch of the stunning La Defense Arena, Racing were defending their unbeaten start in the pool following wins over Scarlets away and Ulster in Paris in the opening two rounds.
Geordan Murphy brought Matt Toomua and Tatafu Polota-Nau in to the Tigers team, while adding Mike Fitzgerald and Harry Wells to the forward pack following league defeat at Bristol, and there was a starting place for young scrum-half Ben White with Ben Youngs among the replacements. Guy Thompson returned to the squad after missing two games with a leg injury and Will Evans came in for his first European Cup involvement of the season.
Wearing the club’s traditional red, white and green colours, Tigers got the game under way after the light show and fire-and-flames razzmatazz of the arena and spent the opening three minutes in the attacking 22, recycling efficiently and getting the ball through hands in the forwards and also bringing in Manu Tuilagi and Matt Toomua in midfield.
George Ford had the visiting fans’ hearts in mouths momentarily as he slipped in fielding a kick, but recovered to offload smartly for Tigers to begin a counter-attack.
But there was a warning sign soon afterwards when Racing hooker Dmitri Szarzewski broke through a gap on an inside ball before the defence covered and won turnover ball in the counter-ruck.
Turnover ball in attack from Tigers, though, gave Racing impetus in the middle of the field and brought their first points.
They were looking to exploit extra numbers on their right when Tuilagi was penalised for deliberate knock-on and he was in the sin-bin as Leone Nakarawa reached over the line to score following the attacking lineout.
Another attack threatened less than two minutes later, with Jonah Holmes called into action in defence on the right touchline.
Tigers invited more pressure when they were dispossessed following their own lineout drive but the defence stood up just in front of the tryline until finally forcing an error in the Racing backline.
The numerical imbalance was perfectly illustrated as Racing claimed a second try on 12 minutes, moving the ball simply from right to left to free wing Juan Imhoff for a run in against the short-handed defence to make it 12-0.
It seemed harsh on Tigers after a promising start and the next score was going to be vital – and it was not long in coming.
Tigers forced an error in the Racing 22 and from the scrum, White went to the right and picked out Holmes who showed enough strength to recover his footing from an attempted tackle and dived in to the right of the posts. Ford made it 12-7 with the conversion.
After recovering possession at the restart, Ford kicked clear from the edge of his 22 but got too much on it and the ball bounced dead 80 metres upfield, bringing play right back to Tigers territory as Tuilagi returned.
From the scrum, Racing created space for Simon Zebo on the right but Holmes and May combined to take him into touch just short of the line.
Zebo, though, fed off another inside ball from Russell to add Racing’s third try on 24 minutes and the Scotland fly-half added the kick to make it 19-7.
Holmes left the field with injury moments later, with Matt Smith coming on.
Racing knocked-on at a lineout on their own 22, giving Tigers a scrum which then brought a penalty but, after going to the corner, the hosts got up in front of Harry Wells to steal possession and the chance was gone.
Tigers, though, kept their hosts pinned inside their own 22, with Toomua looking to release May on a dangerous line before the defence cut him down.
Tatafu Polota-Nau then broke through the French defensive line before a quick turnover of ball almost brought a fourth score at the other end as Teddy Iribaren cleverly kicked upfield and Brice Dulin won the race but, after kicking ahead, he was just short of making the vital touch, though he celebrated behind the deadball line before referee Nigel Owens confirmed no try with the assistance from the TMO.
The respite did not last long, though, as back-rower Baptiste Chouzenoux forced his way over after Ellis Genge had brought down Nakarawa near the line moments later.
A kick into the corner from Toomua looked for Thompstone but Iribaren covered just a few metres out from the tryline and hacked into touch.
Tigers, though ,were not to be denied as a strong lineout drive on the right allowed the forwards to exert some control and, after Polota-Nau had spun his way just short of the line, Kalamafoni picked up to dive over for the try. Ford added the kick to make it 26-14 with 90 seconds still to play in the half.
A knock-on from Brendon O;Connor, fielding a high kick deep in defence, meant the half would finish in Tigers territory and, after being penalised at the set-piece, Russell called for the kicking tee but shanked the kick to the right of the posts as Owens brought the half to a close.
A scrappy start to the second half was halted as Genge and Kalamafoni lined up a big tackle on prop Eddy Ben Arous who remained grounded and required lengthy treatment before being stretchered off.
Play restarted with Tigers put-in at a scrum midway inside their own half and wityhin seconds, Tuilagi was at the other end celebrating a try.
Tigers certainly had the push on at the scrum before releasing May on a 40-metre run on the left and when play spread the opposite way Mike Fitzgerald showed great timing and awareness to pass on to Tuilagi who beat the defence down the touchline to score wide on the right and bring Tigers back to within one score of the hosts at 26-19 with 44 minutes gone.
Desperate defence from Tigers was required to keep their rivals out moments later, carrying several times towards the posts and Smith making a timely tackle on Zebo as he closed in out wide.
But a knock-on in contact under the posts gave Racing put-in ball at the scrum, but the set-piece ended with Genge yellow-carded and Russell knocked over the penalty to take the advantage back into double figures at 29-19.
No8 Antonie Claassens picked off a long pass from Ford in midfield to get Racing forward but the Tigers fly-half reacted sharply to cover Imhoff’s break and May was able to win the race to the loose ball behind his own tryline.
Iribaren was then denied a try after exchanging passes with Nakarawa to dot down in the corner, only for the referee to call play back for a forward pas. replays showed the scrum-half had also gone into touch as he reached to score,
Tigers again toughed it out in defence under their posts as Nakarawa threatened to find a way through, but had to call Campese Ma’afu on as a temporary front rower in Genge’s absence with O’Connor making way and Smith joining the back row for a scrum before Ford booted clear.
But Russell finally unpicked the defence with a 30-metre run from halfway and, when May brought down Nakarawa, ckentre Oliver Klemenczak reacted quickly to take the offload and score in the left-hand corner. Russell added a perfect kick from out wide to make it 36-19.
Geordan Murphy refreshed the pack with the introduction of Jake Kerr and Mike Williams as Genge returned from the yellow card.
Smith chased his own chip ahead and momentarily it looked like a promising position for Tigers but Racing came away with the ball and the defence had to recover. Smith stayed down and was replaced by Ben Youngs as Murphy was forced into a reshuffle with the game approaching its final 15 minutes.
A trademark charge from Genge took Tigers 40 metres upfield, with support latching on quickly as he stayed on his feet in the tackle, ended in the 22 but Tigers were unable to work an opening as Racing tracked back.
The visitors were still looking for a fourth try to take something out of the game, May twice providing hope with runs from his new berth at full-back and Guy Thompson injecting fresh pace in the back row,.
The enterprise was rewarded on 70 minutes when Ford picked off a pass on his own 22, raced up to halfway and kicked ahead. Although, Zebo beat him to it, he poked the ball into touch and Foerd reacted quickly to throw straight to Thompstone to score. Toomua added a drop-goal conversion as the referee checked the legality of the score before confirming the try.
A high tackle from Youngs was penalised on halfway but Russell missed touch and May kicked clear, though a chance was lost when Tigers missed a lineout throw 20 metres out with five minutes left on the clock.
White’s burst of pace and long pass to the right gave more impetus to the visitors until referee Owens penalised Mike Williams in possession 25 metres out, but they responded with another attack from deep, Ford and Tuilagi carrying impressively, only to be denied by spilled ball as they looked to load the right-hand side.
A huge thank you to all the travelling fans who have joined us in Paris this weekend, we hope you have a safe journey home.
We will see you for the return fixture at Welford Road next Sunday at 1pm.
Racing 36 Tigers 26
Racing look to go quick and get it out to the wing with a long pass out wide but there's some back and forth with the ball before Racing recover it and kick to touch to end the match.
Tigers look to have a won a turnover as Racing run it from the scrum but the referee calls a penalty.
Racing win the lineout and create a driving maul, as they look to run it Guy Thompson turns over and it is Tigers on the attack with some good hands but there is a knock-on and Racing have the scrum inside their half.
Tigers look to run
Tigers look good with the ball as we run it back at Racing and into their half but Racing win a turnover penalty at the breakdown, they kick for the lineout inside Tigers half.
Racing win the balll at the lineout and with a few phases kick it downfield, Ben Youngs recovers the ball and kicks clear for the lineout inside the Racing half.
More end to end
Both sides look to run the ball from the restart and it's Tigers who win a penalty on half-way, kicking for the lineout inside the Racing 22.
Matt Toomua with the conversion to make it 36-26 after 70 minutes.
George Ford intercept is run back at Racing before chipping ahead, Zebo kicks into touch, Ford quickly picks up and passed into Adam Thompstone who runs in to score.
End to End
Absolute madness here as from a Racing attack George Ford takes an intercept pass and runs it back at Racing and some quick play looks like they have scored but it is being checked.
Tigers win a free-kick from the scrum and it is all running rugby from there as Tigers continue to run the ball at the Racing defence.
Ellis Genge has a HUGE carry from out half up into the Racing 22 fighting off tacklers before a knock-on in the next few phases of play give Racing a scrum on their 22.
Side to Side
There is some play in the midfield from the lineout there is a knock-on from Racing to give Tigers a scrum on our 10 metre line.
Gaston Cortez, Guy Thompson and Ben Youngs replace Dan Cole, Brendon O'Connor and Matt Smith.
End to End
It's some more running end to end from the restart, both sides making breaks before Racing make a break down the far wing but Manu pushes the ball carrier into touch for a Tigers lineout on our 22.
Ellis Genge is back on from the sin-bin with Brendon O'Connor for Campese Ma'afu, Mike Williams replaces Will Spencer.
Finn Russell lands the touchline conversion to make it 36-19 after 60 minutes.
Tigers kick clear from the scrum but Racing make a break as they run it back and there's a show of speed to get the ball into the corner before Olivier Klemenczak crashes over from short range to score.
Tigers show good defence as Racing win the lineout and try to run it but knock-on in the midfield for a Tigers scrum on our 10 metre line.
We have a few reset scrums before Tigers get the ball and kick clear for a lineout on our 10 metre line.
Racing on the Attack
Racing build phases and work through the Tigers 22 up to the tryline but Tigers hold strong and win a scrum for a knock-on from Racing.
Ben Tameifuna, Dominic Bird and Louis Dupichot are on for Racing in place of Cedate Gomez Sa, Bernard Le Roux and Brice Dulin.
Tigers get the ball from the scrum and kick for touch to give Racing the lineout outside our 22.
Ben Tameifuna, Dominic Bird and Louis Dupichot are on for Racing.
Campese Ma'afu makes his way on to the pitch for Brendon O'Connor as Ellis Genge is still in the sin-bin.
End to End
Tigers kick the restart and Racing look to run it straight back, finding a gap out wide but as Racing look to offload for the try there is a forward pass and Tigers have the scrum inside our 22.
Tigers win a turnover as Racing have the ball from the restart and look to run it wide but there's an intercepted pass and Racing on the attack.
Racing kick ahead into space and it's Imhoff chasing it again but George Ford shows his speed to beat him there and the ball is dotted down for a 22 restart.
Finn Russell lands the penalty to make the score 29-19 after 48 minutes.
Yellow Card Tigers
Racing win a penalty at the scrum and the referee shows Tigers Ellis Genge a yellow card.
Dimitri Szarzewski is replaced by Ole Avei.
Tigers defence is again tested as Racing go quickly but they are held out, there's advantage for Racing and they get the scrum as there is a knock-on in the contact.
Tigers defence is tested as Racing go quick from the lineout and build phases before winning a penalty at a breakdown inside Tigers 22.
Tigers with the ball from the restart take it well and it's a good clearing kick but as Racing run it back they win a penalty at the breakdown and they kick for the lineout outside Tigers 22.
Ford is just wide with the conversion so it remains 26-19 to Racing after 43 minutes.
What a team try! The ball is passed out wide from the scrum and Jonny May shows his speed on the wing to get up to the Racing 10 metre line before the ball is passed back to the other wing and Mike Fitzgerald holds on to the ball before offloading to Manu who dodges a tackler on the touchline to run it in and score.
The Racing player Eddy Ben Arous is stretchered off the pitch and Guram Gogichashvili makes his way onto the pitch to replace him.
Good Defensive Start
Tigers take the restart and a clearing kick is well chased down, Racing look to run it back at Tigers and get back into our half but there is a loose ball in a ruck and Tigers have the ball for a scrum.
There's a short break in play for an injury to a Racing player.
Finn Russell and Racing kick-off the second-half here in Paris.
Tigers and Racing make their way back out on to the pitch as we prepare for the second-half.
Racing 26 Tigers 14
Finn Russell is wide with the penalty and the referee blows for half-time.
After a reset scrum the referee blows for a penalty for Racing and they point to the posts.
Both teams try kicking ahead from the restart and Racing come out on top as there is a knock-on Tigers 22 as we try to collect a high ball for a Racing scrum.
Tigers add the conversion through George Ford to make it 26-14 after 27 minutes.
Tigers with a driving maul from the lineout, run it and build phases, with a break from Tatafu before Sione Kalamafoni dives over the ruck to score Tigers second try of the match.
Racing kick the ball back to Racing from the restart and there's a chip ahead into space in the Racing 22 and Adam Thompstone looks to chase down to score but Racing kicks it clear for a Tigers lineout.
Finn Russell adds the conversion to make it 26-7 after 34 minutes.
Racing with the ball from the lineout it run into Tigers 22 and build a few phases before their big carriers make it up to the 5 metre line and Baptiste Chouzenoux crashes over to score.
Your Ball, Our Ball
Tigers kick the restart and Racing chip it back for Tigers to run it from our 22, there's a few phases and a good break from Ellis Genge but the ball is ripped, Racing chip ahead but it goes straight to Jonny May who kicks to touch.
The referee calls no try, the ball goes dead and Imhoff is just short off the ball so it's a restart for Tigers from the 22.
The ball goes loose after a break from Tatafu and the ball is run back by Racing, chipped ahead and Juan Imhoff is claiming a try but the referee calls to the TMO to check.
There's another turnover at the lineout and Racing with a few phases kick it clear and Tigers are on the attack again, looking to get out wide.
Tigers on the attack on the wing but there is a knock-on, Racing with some phases look to kick it clear but it goes out on the full for a Tigers lineout just outside the Racing 22.
Turnover, we go again
There's a turnover at the lineout and Racing kick it clear but it stays in play and Tigers are back on the attack runnning back to attack the Racing 22.
Tigers win a penalty at the scrum and kick for the lineout in the corner.
There's a knock-on in the lineout from Racing and Tigers have the scrum on Racings 22 on the 5 metre line.
Tigers full-back Jonah Holmes is off for a HIA and Matt Smith is on to replace him.
Tigers on the attack
Racing kick the ball back to Tigers from the restart after a charge down kick from Tatafu so it is Tigers on the attack and a chip ahead goes into touch for a Racing lineout on their 22.
Finn Russell adds the conversion to make it 19-7 after 24 minutes.
Racing keep going with their attack and Simon Zebo finds a gap to break through and runs in to score.
Tigers get a turnover at the lineout and look to run it out of our 22 but Racing win a turnover so it is Tigers in defence on our 22.
Tigers Win back the ball
Racing with the lineout but Tigers get the ball and Manu makes a break to get Tigers into the Racing half but the referee blows the whistle for a penalty. Racing kick for the lineout.
Tigers get the lineout ball and quickly kick clear for a Racing lineout on our 10 metre line
Racing run it wide to the wing and Simon Zebo tries to step in to score but Tigers covering tackles puts him into touch for a Tigers lineout in the corner.
Tigers look to kick clear from the restart but it's an unfortunate bounce the ball bounces dead, so we go back for a Racing scrum on our 22. Manu also returns from the sin-bin as we set for the scrum.
George Ford adds the conversion for Tigers to make it 12-7 after 16 minutes.
Ben White runs it from the scrum and passes it out to Jonah Holmes who fights off tackles to run in and score Tigers first points of the match.
Tigers with the pressure at the kick-off and force a knock-on from Racing to give Tigers a scrum on their 22.
Racing are just wide with the conversion to the score remains 12-0 after 13 minutes.
Racing go wide from the lineout and make the extra man count as they run out to the wing and winger Juan Imhoff runs it in to score.
Tigers win the lineout but the ball is turned over in the breakdown and Racing go quick out wide. The ball goes loose but Jonny May gets a boot to it and kicks ahead, he's unable to get another boot to it before it goes into touch for a lineout outside the 22.
Racing run the ball from the restart and make a break down the wing but the ball carrier is pushed into touch for a Tigers lineout outside our 22.
Racing add the conversion through Finn Russell to make it 7-0 after 9 minutes.
Racing are quick off the lineout and with a few phases Leone Nakarawa breaks through to score the first points of the match.
Yellow Card Tigers
Referee shows Manu Tuilagi a yellow card for a knock-on and Racing kick to the corner.
Racing go quick from the lineout and it is end-to-end as both sides make breaks and some chips ahead but Racing get a break into the Tigers 22 and it looks like a knock-on from Tigers.
Break and Recovery
Racing with the lineout make a break into Tigers half but a loose pass is intercepted by Ben Youngs and Tigers again with the ball, kicking ahead for another lineout on the half-way.
End to End
Tigers win the lineout but there is a loose ball in a tackle, Racing kick ahead but Tigers recover and work the ball back out of our 22 where Brendon O'Connor chips ahead and into touch for a lineout on half-way.
Tigers with the early pressure keep Racing in their 22 and a chip ahead goes straight into touch to give Tigers a lineout between the Racing 22 and 10 metre line.
Here we Go
Tigers and George Ford kicks things off here in Paris.
Welcome to Paris and the La Defense Arena as Tigers visit Racing 92 in the Heineken Champions Cup.