Northampton 14-45 Racing
Northampton were given a sobering reminder of the gap to Europe’s elite as Racing 92 sauntered to a five-try win in their Champions Cup opener.
Flanker Wenceslas Lauret scored three tries with superb supporting lines for the French side, while Argentine wing Juan Imhoff raced in for another two.
Fraser Dingwall scored one and set up another for Courtnall Skosan, but Saints were always second best.
Northampton will play Ulster home and away in their next two European games.
Their pool-stage campaign ends with a trip to Paris for the reverse fixture against this star-studded Racing side.
Coach Chris Boyd will have plenty to work on before then and he might be planning for the next few weeks without Wales fly-half Dan Biggar, who limped out of the fray early in the second half.
First-half blitz leaves Saints with too much to do
Six points down after five minutes. Thirteen down after eight. Twenty-three adrift after 23.
Northampton have climbed to third in the Premiership after a good start to the season, but they looked dazed by the step up in quality against the three-time runners-up.
The Saints gave up a slew of penalties and plenty of ball, with hooker Sam Matavesi’s ill-advised chip from in front of his own posts inside the first minute summing up their muddled thinking.
Racing took full advantage.
Fly-half Finn Russell twice snapped the ball back inside to exploit gaps in the hosts’ fringe defence, creating tries for Lauret and Imhoff.
And Northampton were hopelessly narrow in defence as Russell and full-back Kurtley Beale spun wide to open up a route for Imhoff once again.
Dingwall provided the only first-half bright point for Saints in front of watching England coach Eddie Jones, squeezing a cute grubber kick through for South African wing Skosan to score.
Russell showreel score brings down curtains on Saints
Any lingering hopes that Northampton entertained at the interval were snuffed out by a superb score conjured by Russell in the first minute of the second.
The Scotland playmaker fielded a deep kick, skipped outside Furbank, drew Alex Mitchell and produced a delicious sky-hooking offload round the back of the scrum-half to put Lauret in for his second score.
Biggar, who started with a strapped thigh and was caught by a big Virimi Vakatawa tackle in the first half, hobbled to the touchline shortly after and the game quickly slipped away.
Gael Fickou burst through some flimsy midfield tackling to set up Lauret’s hat-trick score.
Lewis Ludlam saw a consolation try scrubbed off after Ollie Sleightholme was judged to have blocked a potential French tackler with 10 minutes to go, and many of the home fans took that as a cue to head for the exits.
Their team will need to improve markedly if they are not to depart the competition similarly promptly.
Northampton director of rugby Chris Boyd talking to BT Sport: “I don’t know if we were tentative nervous or just overpowered, but they certainly dominated that early period. We also struggled to adapt to the referee’s interpretation.
“We also struggled to deal their physicality and pace at times, there are some pretty telling lessons there and the guys in the sheds are pretty disappointed with the result and the performance.
“Dan Biggar has carried that thigh for a couple of weeks and he just overstretched it in the first half. “
Northampton: Furbank; Freeman, Dingwall, Hutchinson, Skosan; Biggar, Mitchell; Waller, Matavesi, Painter, Ribbans, Moon, Wilkins, Ludlam (capt), Augustus.
Replacements: Sleightholme for Proctor (45), Hutchinson for Biggar (45), Lomani for Mitchell (55), Waller for Auterac (48), Fish for Matavesi (50), Carey for Painter (56), Coles for Ribbans (68), Wood for Wilkins (48).
Racing 92: Beale; Thomas, Vakatawa, Fickou (c), Imhoff; Russell, Machenaud; Gogichashvili, Baubigny, Oz; Jones, Le Roux; Diallo, Lauret, Tanga.
Replacements: Taofifenua for Thomas (64), Gibert for Machenaud (74), Ben Arous for Gogichashvili (55), Chat for Baubigny (64), Gomes Sa for Oz (55), Moreaux for Jones (53), Chouzenoux for Bresler (62), Chavancy for Diallo (74).