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The Camp Nou was the venue for yet another historic event on Friday night. But for once, it was not for football. Instead, it was rugby’s oval ball that took centre stage on a memorable day for the sport. There were 99,124 people in the Barça stadium to watch the final of the French championship, the Top 14, between Racing 92 and RC Toulon, which had been moved from its traditional Parisian home to the Catalan capital due to Euro 2016 being held this month in France.
That extraordinary crowd was the fourth highest ever for a rugby match, and set a new world record for the club game. FC Barcelona can feel proud to have written its name in gold letters in the history of another sport.
It was also a historic night for Racing 92, who took the trophy for the first time in their current guise. The atmosphere inside the ground was right up to the occasion, with the traditional Blaugrana colours replaced in the stands for the night by the white and blue of Racing and the black and red of Toulon.
Barcelona did its part it to make sure this was a night to remember. The Castellers de Vilafranca group built a human tower in the finest of local traditions, with the sound of the sardana accompanying the chants of the two teams. The vast majority of the crowd had travelled down from France, and as always where rugby is concerned, there was nothing but bonding and a wonderful sense of brotherhood between both sets of supporters, while about 8,000 locals also helped to make up the record shattering crowd.
But once all the pre-match build-up was over, what mattered most of all was the game itself, and it was one worthy of the occasion. Racing 92, beaten in the European Champions Cup by England’s Saracens last month, played the last 60 minutes with just 14 men after scrumhalf Maxime Machenaud was sent off. The Parisians trailed 14-12 at the break, but battled brilliantly in the second half to secure a dramatic 29-21 victory.
Living legend Dan Carter, one of the finest All Blacks ever to grace the game, was rewarded with the MVP award after the game. This was a night that he, and everyone else who had the honour to be in the stadium, will be remembering for a very long time indeed. FC Barcelona, which has achieved so much in football, was the capital of world rugby on the night of 24 June 2016.