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Racing take play-off step with 8th straight win

PARIS (AFP) –

Racing Metro's Fabrice Estebanez (C) is tackled by Montpellier's Thomas Combezou (L) and Paul Bosch, March 8, 2013

Racing Metro’s Fabrice Estebanez (C) is tackled by Montpellier’s Thomas Combezou (L) and Paul Bosch (R) during their French Top 14 Rugby Union match on March 8, 2013 at the Yves du Manoir stadium in Montpellier, southwestern France. Racing Metro won for the eighth league match in a row to cement their place in the top six as they won 17-15 at Montpellier.

Racing Metro won for the eighth league match in a row to cement their place in the top six as they won 17-15 at Montpellier on Friday night.

The two sides came into the contest level on points in fifth and sixth position, the last two play-off berths, but the Parisians’ hard-fought success continues their remarkable rise this calendar year.

Back in December they sat 11th and seemingly faced a relegation battle.

They now join fourth-placed Castres on 58 points with Montpellier having to settle for a losing bonus point after a stirring second-half fightback.

The one dark side to a thrilling encounter was a horror injury suffered by referee Mathieu Raynal midway through the second period.

Raynal seemed to snap his leg almost in two as he was caught up in a midfield tussle and his screams of anguish were clearly audible over his microphone.

Masinivanua Matadigo (2ndL) clashes with Paul Bosh (L) Benoit Paillaugue (C) and Fulgence Ouedraogo, March 8, 2013

Racing Metro’s Masinivanua Matadigo (2ndL) clashes with Montpellier’s Paul Bosh (L) Benoit Paillaugue (C) and Fulgence Ouedraogo during their French Top 14 Rugby Union match on March 8, 2013 at the Yves du Manoir stadium in Montpellier, southwestern France. Racing Metro won for the eighth league match in a row to cement their place in the top six as they won 17-15 at Montpellier.

It was an awful interlude to an otherwise gripping contest.

In a game of two halves, Racing sparkled in the first before running out of steam and being ground down by their hosts after the break.

The rot set in for Montpellier after just four minutes as Yohann Artru was intercepted by Argentine full-back Juan Martin Hernandez almost on the Racing tryline with a two-man overlap outside.

Hernandez went on a dashing 80-metre break but didn’t have the pace to reach the try-line, with wingers Artru and Timoci Nagusa catching him, but the ball was quickly recycled through Olly Barkley and Fabrice Estebanez before Juan Imhoff lost control as he went to place the ball, one-handed, over the line.

Englishman Barkley hit the post with a penalty attempt and pushed a second wide but Montpellier didn’t survive much longer.

Quick recycling on 19 minutes saw Bernard Le Roux make a line-break with Fijian number eight Masi Masadigo providing the support to go over unchallenged under the posts against his former club.

Montpellier's Paul Bosch (C) runs with the ball on March 8, 2013

Montpellier’s Paul Bosch (C) runs with the ball during their French Top 14 Rugby Union match against Racing Metro on March 8, 2013 at the Yves du Manoir stadium in Montpellier, southwestern France. Racing Metro won for the eighth league match in a row to cement their place in the top six as they won 17-15 at Montpellier.

Fly-half Barkley couldn’t miss the extras from there but soon handed over kicking duties to half-back partner Sebastien Descons, who exchanged penalties with Montpellier’s Benoit Paillaugue.

Worse was to follow for the southerners as Racing increased their lead to 17-3 just before the break as more slick passing created space on the right and Masadigo’s lofted pass found captain Henry Chavancy to barge his way over, with Descons adding the extras.

Montpellier launched a fightback in the second period with Racing repeatedly punished for indiscipline as Paillaugue kicked four penalties to no reply.

But crucially he missed a fifth second half attempt and the Heraultais comeback came up just short.

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