Dan Carter's dream European run continues with Racing
Dan Carter's dream season with Racing 92 has continued with a thrilling 19-16 European Cup quarter-final victory over French arch-rivals Toulon, but the ex-All Black was left with a heavily strapped knee.
The win sees Racing now lined up to take on Leicester in the semi-finals, with Saracens playing Wasps in the other all-English clash.
Carter, the world player of the year and Test rugby's highest points scorer, has settled in superbly at Racing, benefitting from an immediate intimacy with half-back partners Mike Phillips and Maxime Machenaud, and playing behind a dominant, hard-nosed pack with an exciting backline outside him.
The 34-year-old was slightly subdued in the narrow win over Toulon which set up a mouth-watering last-four clash with Leicester for Racing but saw Bernard Laporte's side dethroned in their bid for an unprecedented fourth consecutive European title.
After kicking an early penalty and converting Juan Imhoff's try, Carter passed kicking duties to Machenaud on the half-hour mark.
His right knee heavily strapped, the fly-half was seen to hobble at times, but remained on the pitch until the final whistle for further bragging rights over Toulon's Australian playmaker Matt Giteau, the duo having met 20 times at Test level, Carter coming out on top 15 times.
Racing coach Laurent Labit said Carter's injury was "nothing alarming", adding that in such a tight match he was never going to take the player off.
"I did think about it," Labit admitted. "But I thought at 16-16 there might be extra-time, that we might finish the match at 19-19 or have a penalty shoot-out.
"We had to keep Johan Goosen, Machenaud and Carter on the pitch at all costs because you need three kickers should there be a penalty shoot-out in the European Cup."
Labit added: "Dan twisted his knee a little. There's nothing alarming. That said, he was a little handicapped but very well strapped, he was able to stay on the paddock.
"In matches of this kind of level, players of such a level, even with their capabilities reduced to 80 percent, are important, mentally, for the players at their side.
"There could be at any moment a part of the game which he'd be able to handle and reassure the others."
Racing roared out to an early 10-0 lead, quickly reeled back in by Toulon by half-time.
The game then descended into a kicking battle of attrition in the swirling winds of the northwest Parisian suburbs, with seven missed penalties, three for Racing and four for Toulon.
"Dan was like all the players in warm-up," Labit said of pre-game kicking practice. "Disturbed by the wind that was swirling everywhere, coming from the left, the right, straight on!"
Carter, Labit said, was a steady head in a team beginning to show its real mettle after a couple of disappointing seasons despite big-name signings such as Jamie Roberts and Jonny Sexton, now both departed."
"All week he's brought a lot of calmness and experience in the run-up to the match," he said.
"It's important to work well every day but not to play the game three times in your head before you actually play it."
A free-running Leicester ran in six tries in thrashing Racing's Parisian neighbours Stade Francais 41-13 and the Tigers coach Richard Cockerill backed his team to beat anyone.
"I'm delighted for the team, we have a semi-final, but we haven't won anything yet. We're the unpopular side to support, but we know we can beat anyone in a one-off game," the former England hooker said, with the semi-final set for Nottingham's City Ground on April 24.
"We know we can beat Racing... if we get it right, and if we go to a final, it's a one-off game and we can beat them."
© 2016 AFP