JONNY SEXTON’S 45-metre penalty in the 79th minute secured Racing Métro a precious 19-16 win away to Montpellier on the first weekend of the new Top 14 season.
The Ireland kicked 11 points in total for the Parisians, while also providing the scoring pass for centre Alexandre Dumoulin’s try in the first half. Sexton struck a penalty from wide on the right in the 74th minute to draw Racing level, then held his nerve from the tee at the death.
Four points on the road represents a superb start to the Top 14 campaign for les Franciliens, who are among the favourites in the league for 2014/15 after adding the likes of Brice Dulin, Antonie Claassen and Luke Charteris to their squad.
Fabien Galthié’s Montpellier were as entertaining as ever, with wings Rene Ranger and Timoci ‘Jim’ Nagusa consistently threatening with ball in hand. Ultimately, the fact that the southern side were forced to play the second half with only 14 men was costly.
Hooker Charles Geli was red carded on the stroke of half time for starting a brawl, allowing Racing to grind out the victory after the interval.
Montpellier had the best of the opening exchanges of the game, demonstrating the same ambitious attacking style that has made them so enjoyable to watch under Galthié, but it was Racing who were first on the scoreboard.
Sexton pulled a screen pass back to midfielder Dumoulin, who broke through two soft tackles to dot down under the posts in the 18th minute, with Sexton converting. François Trinh-Duc slotted a penalty soon after to bring Montpellier back to 7-3.
Charteris was sin-binned on the 34-minute mark for an infringement at a maul, with Geli leaving the pitch on a permanent basis shortly after for his part in a multiple-player melee.
Despite being down to 14 men, Montpellier moved into the lead in the second half as Trinh-Duc kicked two further penalties. 53 minutes in, Racing debutant Johan Goosen powered over a 50-metre+ drop goal, one which needed a TMO decision to be awarded and which some felt had passed the wrong side of the crossbar.
Sexton’s first penalty then stretched Racing out to 13-9, before Nagusa finished a stunning try from a Robert Ebersohn offload and stemming from Ranger’s break. Benoit Paillaugue converted and Montpellier found themselves 16-13 ahead despite their numerical disadvantage.
However, Sexton stood up in the closing 15 minutes to grab victory for his team, watched closely by defence coach Ronan O’Gara.
Earlier in the day, Toby Flood scored all Toulouse’s points on his debut, guiding them to a 20-19 victory over Oyonnax. Elsewhere, Stade Français got their season off to an impressive start with a 25-22 win in Castres.
Bernard Jackman’s Grenoble ran Clermont close away from home, securing a losing bonus point in a 30-26 defeat. Champions Toulon beat Bayonne last night to begin their title defence with a success.
However, it is Brive who top the table after the first round of fixtures, following their bonus point 37-15 victory over Top 14 newcomers La Rochelle this evening.