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Five years on from Carter and Co., fans are again full of hope

Racing 92’s recent win over La Rochelle underlines their status as serious title contenders. They’re two points off Toulouse and, despite Les rouge et noir having a game in hand, Racing fans again dare to dream – remembering the only time they have won it.

Spearheaded by the classy Dan Carter, Racing triumphed over Toulon in a frenetic final at the Barcelona Football Stadium, the Camp Nou, in 2016.

But just as impressive as the final is how they got there.

The road to Barcelona

After finishing fourth on the TOP 14 table, Racing knew that to be crowned TOP 14 champions, they would need to beat three of France’s finest club sides in the final series. This task that many would find daunting but not this Racing side. Steeped with experience of crunch games, they didn’t flinch. Six penalties from Dan Carter helped Racing past a stubborn Toulouse in the quarter-final, setting up a semi-final showdown with TOP 14 table-toppers, Clermont.

Clermont had a famous record at the Stade Marcel Michelin, and welcomed Racing in what would prove to be one of the most entertaining matches ever seen in TOP 14 play-off history. Tries from Goosen and Rokocoko were matched by efforts from Fritz Lee and Wesley Fofana which saw both teams tied at 27-27 at the end of 80 minutes.

A long-range penalty from Scott Spedding and a monster drop-kick from Brock James put Clermont 6 points up and favourites to head to Barcelona for the final. But Racing refused to admit the race was over. A frantic final two minutes turned the game on its head.

Attempting a quick line-out with time running out, Imhoff gifted possession to Clermont and thought he had ruined Racing’s chances of comeback, only to have the favour returned almost seconds later. An interception allowed him to streak clear of the stunned and scrambling Clermont defence to put Racing within a conversion of the final. Step-up Dan Carter. The All-Blacks legend, from 40 metres out, never seemed fazed as he connected beautifully with the ball to send it sailing over, despite the best efforts of the onrushing Clermont players. Racing would see out the final minute to secure a famous victory and book their place in the TOP 14 final.

At the full-time whistle the celebrations were muted. This again, reflected the winning mentality of this Racing side. They knew nothing was won yet. ‘No one remembers who came in second’, and the Racing players were acutely aware that they still had one rather huge obstacle in the shape of Toulon to overcome. Winners of the previous three European Cups, this Toulon side were a proven winning machine. Racing were under no illusions as to how hard this game would be.

The final

Picture the scene. Final day. Racing are up against a star-studded Toulon side, featuring the likes of Matt Giteau, Bryan Habana and Leigh Halfpenny.

Toulon were a tough task for any side, and it became even harder when scrum-half Maxime Machenaud was sent off for a dangerous tackle halfway through the first half.

Again, the resolve and mental strength of this Racing side would be tested to the maximum. Semi-final hero, Juan Imhoff, filled in at scrumhalf in Machenaud’s absence, and through the boot of Dan Carter and Johan Goosen, Racing clawed their way back into the tie. Still up against it, Racing were crying out for inspiration.

This time it came from Joe Rokocoko. The Kiwi winger produced a moment of magic. Running down the flank, he used his pace to skip around his defender, before chipping the ball over the last man to dot down for Racing. This came at a pivotal moment for the Paris club as it gave them clear daylight from Toulon.

Maxime Mermoz, slipping through a ruck, gave Toulon belief they could beat the 14 men, but Racing continued to defend valiantly, and forced a late penalty from Toulon. This gave Dan Carter his opportunity to write his name in Racing history.

One penalty, to secure their first title since 1990. As he had done in the semi-final, the New Zealander stepped up, completely unfazed by the occasion and converted the penalty. Now was the time for celebration. A historic victory, against all the odds, for Racing 92!

An incredible feat for Racing, and one which will live long in the memories of their fans. Their ability to raise their game when it mattered most carried them through some incredibly tough moments. The efforts of Dan Carter cannot be understated. Scoring 52 out of Racing’s 84 points (61%) in the play-offs is an incredible achievement which writes him into the history books of Racing 92 and TOP 14 rugby.

It is expected that, this season, Racing 92 will be up at the TOP of the table, come the play-offs. But does this current crop of superstars have the same big game mentality and never-quitting attitude present in 2016?

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