French newcomers Racing relishing underdog title

Simon Martin-Brisac says underdog status will suit Racing Club de France in the EHL’s debutants group as they seek to upset Daring and get one over on Ireland’s Monkstown when they make their tournament bow next month.

The French side have been on the up and up in recent years, getting closer and closer to winning back the national title they last won in 1996. Two years ago, Racing were semi-finalists; last season they made it to the final against St Germain and they are hoping to go one better this season and win their “vingtieme” title. 

They are ambitious for their first year and Martin-Brisac is content with their draw for round one in Barcelona.

“First off, we were quite relieved to avoid Rot Weiss Köln and Kampong, which are big clubs used to European top level,” he told “It would have been ‘Mission Impossible’. Facing Daring and Monkstown, we have a chance to go through to the next round. It would be a great performance for the club as we know it will be very tough, above all against Daring who have had an impressive pre-season.”

With all three sides in their group new to the competition, there is no prior knowledge of what strengths Monkstown bring to the table but there is a little bit of inside knowledge of their Belgian foe.
“To be honest I don't know so much about Monkstown. I guess they play as a typical Irish team: fighting spirit and self-sacrifice for the entire 70 minutes. It is always difficult to play that kind of opponent. 

“We have a little more information about Daring thanks to Olivier Sanchez who played for Le Dar' for two years. We know they have some good prospects and great players like [Manu] Brunet or [Tanguy] Cosyns who flicks very well too. I'll ask to my friend Theophile Ponthieu [who recently moved to Daring] some updates!”

For Racing’s current panel, half of their panel have been with the side since their youth days while others have added to the panel progressively over the past four years. Like Daring, they have a strong family ethic with French international Simon joined in the team by his brother Nicolas while his father is the team manager.  Gabriel Desmasures and Jules Francotte are cousins and their fathers played together in the 80s. 

Racing topped the Top Six preliminary table last season before becoming undone by reigning champions St Germain in the final in Lille. It was enough to earn their EHL place and Martin-Brisac says it is the culmination of four years development.

We had a good base of players from the club but it wasn't enough to reach the French top level. Thanks to massive work from the club’s staff, very good French players came to strengthen the team. Last summer, Gaël Foulard, aka "Coco”, took the lead of the club which was a great step. 

“We built our victories on a strong defense, some skillful forwards and an efficient short corner with Jean-David Koch - the French top scorer in the last two seasons. Goalkeeper Corentin Saunier helped us to perform well and keep the sheet clean.”

In the summer, another five new arrivals came with Chris Peters-Deutz and Antoine Ferec in defense, Celestin Duchesne and David Bernstein in midfield and Canadian international James Kirkpatrick in attack. 

“We are all happy about that. Chris, Antoine and Celestin are members of the French Team U-21. Chris has already few caps at senior level. David is an experienced midfielder and James will give us more options in attack. 

“It's always good to have players from different hockey-culture. What's more, competition between players is stronger than last season as every place in the squad is now a battle. Trainings have more intensity. 

“Rotations during games don't influence the level of the team anymore. In my opinion, there is only benefits to those arrivals and they are great guys with good spirit!
We are doing very good work at training. All the players have the same goal; efforts are made by everyone and the atmosphere is perfect; cool and serious at the same time. Obviously, we know that we are ‘the little thumb’ of the group and that all the predictions have Daring as winners. But that's great. We like to be in this position.”Image Credit: Marc Francotte/RCF