BATTLE OF THE 10s IN THE QUARTERFINALS
Russell vs. Segonds and Jalibert vs. Lopez are key play-off battles
After 26 rounds of fixtures over the last ten months, we have just six teams left competing for the Bouclier de Brennus courtesy of the TOP 14 lay-off system.
Having secured a TOP 2 finish last weekend - guaranteeing a home semi-final - Toulouse and La Rochelle can put their feet back this weekend and watch the quarter-finalists slug it out.
The first quarterfinal Friday evening, Racing 92 take on Stade Français in an all-Paris affair involving the two most in-form teams in the division heading into the play-offs.
Racing are unlucky not to have secured a home semi-final, with a late La Rochelle penalty against Clermont denying them, despite winning their last four games in a row. Their opponents have won their last six in a row with fly-half, Joris Segonds, playing a huge part.
The 24-year-old has established himself as the first-choice fly-half in the last six months, displacing Argentinian legend, Nicolas Sanchez. His game management and kicking have been a large part of Stade Français’ upturn in form, and he will be looking to have a similar influence in Stade Français’ play-off push.
But his opposite number will have his own view in that. In Finn Russell, Racing have one of the most exciting and enigmatic playmakers in World Rugby. The Scotsman, who despite having a summer Lions’ tour of South African coming up, will remain focused on taking Racing as far as possible, and hopefully to finish the season with some silverware.
Racing have scored over 100 points in their last two games whilst Stade Français also love high scoring matches. The last time these two played each other, Stade came out as 29-35 winners, so expect another entertaining clash to see who will face La Rochelle for a spot in the TOP 14 final.
Saturday sees our second quarter-final take place between Bordeaux and Clermont. This match has all the makings of another great game in the TOP 14, involving two of the most exciting teams in the division. This fixture will also see the second-best defence in the division (Bordeaux) against the free-scoring might of Clermont, who are the TOP 14’s and Europe’s highest points scorers.
The contrast between attack and defence will be absorbing but again, the battle at fly half will have a large influence on the outcome of the game. Matthieu Jalibert, one of the most sought-after talents in European Rugby goes head-to-head with one of Europe’s most seasoned and experienced creators in Camille Lopez.
The two French fly halves are hugely important players for their sides. Jalibert creating attacking opportunities by playing on the front foot and on the gainline. Whereas Lopez is one of the world’s finest at controlling a game and dictating the tempo of the attack. These two differing styles will be a joy to compare, with a semi-final spot against European Champions, Toulouse, awaiting the victor. When these two met in January, Bordeaux came out narrow victors in a 36-37 thriller.
Elsewhere, Bayonne were confirmed in 13th place last weekend. Therefore, they will take on Biarritz this weekend in the relegation play-off match to see who will take the 14th and final place in the TOP 14 next season.
It is down to the business end of the season, where results are the only thing that matters. Toulouse and La Rochelle wait in the semi-finals, but who do you think will be joining them. Let us know through our socials – Facebook or Instagram – who are YOU backing to make the final 4?