FRENCH CLUBS BACK ON TOP IN EUROPE
With three teams in the final four of the Champions Cup and one in the Challenge Cup, TOP 14 is the pinnacle of European rugby once again.
If there are any doubts about the resurgence of French club rugby just look to the semi-finalists for this year’s Champion Cup and Challenge Cup. TOP 14 and French rugby who boast three of the four teams battling it out to be crowned Europe’s best. Bordeaux Begles, Toulouse, La Rochelle and Leinster make up the final four in Europe’s premier rugby competition.
An all-French encounter between Toulouse and Bordeaux will be a spectacle to behold. After two battling away victories, Toulouse will return to the Stade Toulousain hoping to reach the Champions Cup final for the first time since 2010.
Toulouse conquered Munster and Clermont in the previous rounds. Led by Julien Marchand, their star-studded line-up showed attacking flair in their victory over Munster as well as defensive resilience in their most-recent victory at the Stade Marcel Michelin. But they won’t be booking a day off for the final just yet? They lost at this stage last season to eventual winners Exeter Chiefs and must get past a supremely confident Bordeaux outfit first.
Bordeaux’s confidence is not misplaced. They have already knocked two of Europe’s best sides out of the competition. They followed victory over Premiership table-toppers Bristol with a closely contested win over last year’s Champions Cup losing finalists, Racing 92.
Bordeaux have shown they have the attacking talent as well as the defensive structure to have made it this far. Jalibert is on the TOP of his game and will be relishing to pit himself against compatriots, Ntamack and Dupont in this semi-final. Bordeaux have had both games at home so far in the knockout stages, and now travel to Toulouse, where they lost 45-23 last time they took on the les rouges et noir.
In the other Champions Cup semi-final, La Rochelle welcome Leinster to the Stade Marcel Deflandre. Raymond Rhule and Geoffrey Doumayrou inspired La Rochelle to a convincing victory over Sale having conquered Gloucester a week earlier. La Rochelle have impressed this season. They have a great balance in the squad, with a mixture of French stars and imports from the Southern Hemisphere which have created a team still fighting on two fronts at this late stage of the season. But now, they must face one of Europe’s heavyweights. With a record-breaking fifth European cup in their crosshairs, Leinster made a statement of intent at the weekend. Last year’s champions, Exeter Chiefs were dispatched in a powerful performance from the Pro 14 champions. This game has an added bit of spice. La Rochelle’s head coach, Ronan O’Gara is an Irish rugby legend, who made his name playing for Leinster’s fiercest rivals, Munster. This added subplot is sure to help cement a great occasion as these two sides lock horns for a chance to play for the Champions Cup in Marseille at the end of May.
In the Challenge Cup, French hopes fall on Montpellier. Having started the season disappointingly, Montpellier have started to hit form at the perfect time to spur them on to a European cup final. With wins over Glasgow and Benetton, Philippe Saint-André’s side must now travel to the south of England to take on Bath at the Rec. This will be a tough task against a Bath side with some very talented individuals in their squad, but Montpellier will remain confident that, with the new lease of life and newly found form, they will have enough firepower to win and reach the Challenge Cup final for the first time since 2016, when they won the competition.
There are some mouth-watering clashes in the European semi-finals, with French clubs dominating the places in Europe’s elite competitions. Will we see a French club lift the Champions Cup this season? Let us know your thoughts on our socials – Instagram or Facebook.