Springbok skipper Kolisi helps Racing to Top 14 summit on debut

Sun, Nov 26, 2023, 10:33 PM
AFP
by AFP
Siya Kolisi's Racing 92 debut ended with a bonus point win. Photo: AFP
Siya Kolisi's Racing 92 debut ended with a bonus point win. Photo: AFP

South Africa's two-time Rugby World Cup winning captain Siya Kolisi tasted victory on his Racing 92 debut as they beat La Rochelle 32-10 in Paris to take over the number one spot in the French Top 14 table. 

A month after lifting the Webb Ellis Cup up the road at the Stade de France, 32-year-old Kolisi played 54 minutes at openside flanker as Racing claimed their sixth win after just eight games of the season to go above surprise package Pau.

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Champions Cup holders La Rochelle, coached by ex-Ireland fly-half Ronan O'Gara, lost for a fifth time this campaign having played more than 50 minutes with 14 men after Teddy Thomas' red card.

"I was quite nervous before the game because your reputation and all that you do can only take you so far," Kolisi told reporters.

"The guys only respect you by what you do on the field and that's what I wanted to do, play well and add value with what I do on the field.

"It's going to be tough for me to stamp my authority but I'm going to give my best," he added.

Former Sharks back-rower Kolisi has become a poster boy for French rugby since the end of the World Cup featuring on television programmes and on the cover of newspapers. 

Emblematic Kolisi's fame outside of the sport has also exploded having been a courtside guest at a Brooklyn Nets NBA match earlier this month.

A week ago he was booed by Stade Francais fans but this time there were only cheers for the man who inspired his South Africa team to a second successive World Cup title at the expense of hosts France. 

Kolisi's first touch since lifting the Webb Ellis trophy on October 28 came after 14 minutes, pouncing on a loose ball which lead to scrum-half Nolann Le Garrec slotting a penalty to make it 10-3 after Juan Imhoff’s early try for the hosts and Antoine Hastoy’s shot at goal for the visitors. 

Racing led 24-3 at the break thanks to a penalty try and fly-half Antoine Gibert's touchdown, helped by some smart Kolisi play at a scrum, as La Rochelle winger Thomas was sent off for a high tackle on Imhoff. 

During the break Kolisi was seen giving advice to his forwards back in the changing room but when they returned it was O'Gara's side who cut the gap to 24-10 thanks to No 8 Yoan Tanga's try.

With 25 minutes to play Kolisi, the league's biggest signing since Dan Carter between 2015-2018, was given another warm reception by the crowd at the indoor La Defense Arena as he was replaced by 21-year-old Maxime Baudonne.

Racing claimed the bonus point and top spot as England full-back Henry Arundell crossed for his fourth try in two games with two minutes to play.

On Saturday, controversial former French rugby federation president and ex-France head coach Bernard Laporte lost his first game as Montpellier director of rugby with a 26-21 defeat by promoted Oyonnax. 

Montpellier, champions in 2022, are bottom of the table after seven straight defeats, their worst run since Mohed Altrad took over as owner 12 years ago. 

Pau had claimed top spot beating Racing's Parisian rivals Stade Francais 30-6 thanks to English fly-half Joe Simmonds who scored 15 points from the boot.  

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