Dan Carter inspires stunning 14-man effort as Racing beat Toulon to win French Top 14 title
Racing 92 clinched their first French Top 14 title in 26 years on Friday when they shrugged off having to play an hour with 14 men to defeat Toulon 29-21 in a thrilling final.
It was Racing's sixth title in their history and was watched by a record crowd for a club game of 99,124 fans inside the Nou Camp, home of Spanish football giants Barcelona.
But the team of former All Blacks superstar Dan Carter did it the hard way, having scrum-half Maxime Machenaud red-carded after just 18 minutes before slipping 14-6 down.
However, a barnstorming second-half performance by the Parisian giants shattered three-time European champions Toulon's hopes of winning a fourth French crown.
"It is the most special season of my life," said man-of-the-match Carter who arrived in France having helped the All Blacks to win the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England.
"We showed that we have a real team spirit. I’m still not sure how we did it but I am very relieved," he added.
Toulon's English fullback Delon Armitage blasted his team's indiscipline.
"At this level, our mistakes were unacceptable, they cost us dearly. We gave them three points, then three more points, then another three points.
"Against 14 men, we were unable to keep the ball. They upped their level and we were making stupid errors."
After Leigh Halfpenny and Carter exchanged early penalties, the final took what looked to be a potentially key twist.
"It all happened so quickly, I didn't think I had turned him," said 27-year-old Machenaud of the controversial tackle.
"I thought then it would be mission impossible, very complicated for the 14 guys on the field. But they found exceptional resources tonight and I am grateful to them."
Carter then cut the deficit before Toulon grabbed the first try of the final.
Georgian flanker Mamuka Gorgodze burst through one tackle to release winger Josua Tuisova in space.
The Fijian then released the giant Georgian in support who went on to score for a 14-6 lead.
Halfpenny missed the extras before Racing pulled it back to 14-12 at the interval with Johan Goosen and Carter knocking over a penalty apiece.
Long-range marksman Goosen nudged Racing in front for the first time just after the restart before Toulon's night suffered another setback.
Prop Xavier Chiocci was yellow-carded for constant infringements at the breakdown and Racing took full advantage to turn the match on its head.
Two more penalties from Goosen and Carter stretched the lead to 21-14 before Racing grabbed their only try.
Carter won turnover ball and once it was cleared out, it was fed to winger Joe Rokocoko to smartly chip ahead.
The bounce fell kindly for the 32-year-old former All Black Rokocoko, who collected and sprinted away for the score and a 26-14 lead.
Carter missed the extras while Goosen went wide with another penalty but Racing, with Argentine winger Juan Imhoff impressively filling in as emergency scrum-half, still dominated despite being a man down.
Toulon gave themselves a lifeline with 10 minutes left when French centre Maxime Mermoz went over for a close-range score after the hard yards were made by Bryan Habana, with Halfpenny adding the conversion for a 26-21 deficit.
But a weary Racing weathered the storm.
Carter added another penalty to finish the final with 15 points and a late break up field by impressive 20-year-old replacement hooker Camille Chat eased the pressure before the party began.
It was a disappointing way for Toulon coach Bernard Laoprte to finish his club career as he now heads off to contest the presidency of the French national federation.