French teams turn on the style for Hong Kong crowd
Toulouse defeat Racing Metro but both sides provide a feast of hard-hitting action
It was an exhibition game in the best sense of the word as Toulouse and Racing Metro turned on the style with their big men and even bigger hits thrilling more than 5,000 spectators at Aberdeen Stadium on Saturday.
Overjoyed organisers of the Natixis Cup, inundated with mercis for putting on the first-ever clash of two top European club teams in Hong Kong, if not Asia, have promised more.
"This will not be the last time we see real serious top-quality club rugby in Hong Kong," said Jean-Baptiste Aldige, the frontman behind the promoters of the game. "This is the first step. Already the sponsors have said they will be back next year and we are even looking at expanding this concept to include a team from New Zealand next year. But one thing we know is that Racing Metro will be involved."
The famous Parisian club ended on the wrong side of the result with Toulouse prevailing 19-12. But the result was academic for it didn't count as an official league game. What mattered was the two French Top 14 sides were determined to show the best face of French rugby and while only one of the five tries scored was a sweeping move - the rest were solid forward-inspired efforts from close range - it was still exhilarating to watch the no-holds-barred match unfold.
"Today was all about spreading the brand of both clubs as well as the spreading the message of rugby. It was a full-on game and both teams just wanted to attack and try to make it as entertaining to watch for the fans," said former All Blacks winger Hosea Gear who played for Toulouse.
Gear played out of position at inside centre because both the regular Toulouse centres were on national duty for France against New Zealand. Despite missing seven of their international stars, the four-time European club champions were too good.
"It was my first time and I really enjoyed it. Everybody was a winner, the game, the fans, and both teams too," added Gear, one of many international stars on parade mostly from the Pacific Islands as well as South Africa.
When Racing Metro refused to take the first penalty awarded by local referee Toby Lothian in front of goal, it was clear that both teams would try to turn on the style. A difficult thing to do with both defences standing firm, leaving Toulouse's Fijian winger Timoci Matanavou to bag the only try of the match by the backs from primary possession.
"It was good to bounce back from a bad loss last week [to Brive] and build up the morale," said former Springbok hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle, who got a huge cheer when he scored the opening try for Toulouse, who led 19-5 at the break with No 8 Christopher Tolofua also scoring. Flanker Luc Barba and winger Adrien Plante scored either side of the break for Racing Metro.
"This tour was important for our young players to push for a place in our top side," said Racing Metro head coach Laurent Labit. "The most important thing was we had a good solid week of training and then finished it off with a good performance against a quality team like Toulouse."