Russell magic ends Saracens' run
CHAMPIONS CUP REPORT: Saracens’ run in Europe’s top flight has come to a dramatic end in Paris on Saturday.
A moment of Finn Russell magic set up Juan Imhoff for the match-winning try, as Racing 92 edged the defending champions, Saracens, 19-15 in the semifinal on Saturday.
Saracens turned a 6-9 half-time deficit into a 15-9 lead, before a Maxime Machenaud penalty and the Imhoff try sealed the win for Saracens.
The multiple champions won’t be seen in Europe for several years, as they have been relegated from the Premiership for salary cap breaches and will have to work their way back into the top flight in the next few years.
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The Argentinean wing, Imhoff, who last played for the Pumas at the 2015 World Cup, crossed with five minutes to play against Sarries.
The Parisians will travel to either Toulouse or Exeter Chiefs, who play later in England, on October 17 for a chance at a first European crown.
A maximum of 1,000 spectators were allowed into the 32,000-capacity La Defense Arena under new coronavirus restrictions came into effect earlier in the day.
France wing Teddy Thomas made his first appearance since February’s Six Nations victory over Wales.
The visitors named an unchanged side from last weekend’s success at Leinster as Alex Goode continued to deputise for England captain Owen Farrell who has been banned for a dangerous tackle.
Iribaren opened the scoring with an 11th minute penalty goal before Goode, who scored 19 points in Dublin, brought the sides level at 3-3 with his own effort after 25 minutes.
Neither side managed to claim the ascendancy in an error-strewn opening and Iribaren and Goode slotted two further penalties for a 6-6 scoreline with both efforts kicked in eerie silence.
The first glimpse of brilliance from Racing’s international-filled backline came with two minutes of the first half to go as Scotland flyhalf Finn Russell cleaned up a Sarries kick inside his own 22m.
He passed to Thomas out wide who ran free to chip ahead into open space and along with Imhoff forced full-back Elliot Daly to run the ball into touch.
Racing won a penalty after pressure from the resulting lineout and Iribaren claimed a 9-6 lead at the break.
Goode was successful with two further penalties inside the opening 10 minutes for a 12-9 advantage.
With half an hour remaining the hosts played a lineout quickly and Russell fed Simon Zebo on his 22m but the Ireland full-back knocked the ball on after a smothering tackle from Dominic Morris, a first-half substitute for Scotland centre Duncan Taylor.
Racing were pinned at the following scrum and Goode opened up a six-point gap.
Iribaren was replaced by 38-time France scrumhalf Maxime Machenaud afterwards and despite pressure inside the Sarries half, the home side failed to find gaps in the disciplined away defence.
Machenaud closed the gap to 15-12 with a little over 10 minutes to play after Donnacha Ryan won a superb penalty at a ruck as Racing sensed victory and a place in the final.
But with five minutes to play they found the breakthrough as Sarries’ defensive line faltered.
Virimi Vakatawa broke up field from a Russell chip to find Imhoff for the decisive try and Machenaud converted as Racing claimed a spot in the final, a third in the club’s history after 2016 and 2018.
For Racing 92
Pens: Iribaren 3, Machenaud
Pens: Goode 5
Racing 92: 5 Simon Zebo, 14 Teddy Thomas, 13 Virimi Vakatawa, 12 Olivier Klemenczak, 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Teddy Iribaren (captain), 8 Antonie Claassen, 7 Fabien Sanconnie, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Dominic Bird, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 Georges Henri Colombe, 2 Camille Chat, 1 Eddy Ben Arous
Replacements: 16 Teddy Baubigny, 17 Hassane Kolingar, 18 Ali Oz, 19 Boris Palu, 20 Baptiste Chouzenoux, 21 Maxime Machenaud, 22 Antoine Gibert, 23 Francois Trinh-Duc
Saracens: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Alex Lewington, 13 Duncan Taylor, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Alex Goode, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Jackson Wray, 6 Mike Rhodes, 5 Tim Swinson, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Tom Woolstencroft, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 Alec Clarey, 19 Callum Hunter-Hill, 20 Calum Clark, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Manu Vunipola, 23 Dom Morris
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Pascal Gauzère (France), Mathieu Raynal (France)
TMO: Eric Briquet-Campin (France)