NTAMACK v JALIBERT CENTRE STAGE IN EUROPE
TOP-rated fly-halfs face off in Toulouse v Bordeaux while La Rochelle welcome Leinster
Romain Ntamack and Matthieu Jalibert are two of the best fly halves in World Rugby and this weekend they go head-to-head in the European Champion’s Cup. Both talismanic figures in their respective teams, Jalibert (Bordeaux) and Ntamack (Toulouse) possess an incredible ability to open a defence up and cause problems.
This is just one quality matchup in this weekend semi-finals in which TOP 14 supplies three out of four teams. Elsewhere, on the wings, Ben Lam and Cordero will look to cause Toulouse as many defensive issues as possible whilst the in-form Lebel coupled with Cheslin Kolbe will be hard for Bordeaux to supress.
It’s also impossible to ignore the mesmeric maestro that is Antoine Dupont. Widely regarded as one of rugby’s finest talents, Dupont is making a huge difference in every game he plays. Bordeaux’s game-plan must surely involve limiting his involvement in the match. More easily said than done.
Both sides will recall last year’s semi-finals - and not with fond memories. Bordeaux were knocked out by eventual Challenge Cup winners, Bristol, whilst Toulouse fell to Exeter Chiefs. As two of France’s most entertaining teams clash, only one can come out on TOP!
Sunday’s semi-final involves La Rochelle welcoming the Leinster juggernaut to the Stade Marcel Deflandre. La Rochelle, who have been building a title-challenging squad for the last couple of years, will see this tie as chance to truly prove themselves.
La Rochelle are playing exciting rugby in Europe under the stewardship of Jono Gibbes and look to their first Champions Cup final. The task ahead of them should not be underestimated. Leinster are one of Europe’s most dominant and consistent sides. Near ever-presents at this stage of the tournament, Leinster have plenty of experience and knowhow which will serve them well in the tight parts of the game. Leinster and La Rochelle boast some of the best defensive records in Europe, but don’t expect it to be a dull, turgid affair, as both teams possess incredible attacking ability.
In the centres Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw are not only one of the best pairings but they one of the most settled partnerships. Playing regularly together for club and internationally for five years, their relationship is huge part of Leinster’s style of play.
But these two will have their work cut out. In Geoffrey Doumayrou and Levani Botia, La Rochelle have two destructive ball runners who caused endless problems for Gloucester and Sale in the previous two rounds. This is a match-up we cannot wait to see.
La Rochelle Head Coach, Ronan O’Gara adds a subplot to this already, hotly anticipated clash. The former Munster man, along with Jono Gibbes, will spend all week planning Leinster’s demise. A task that he will surely relish. This has got all the makings of a great tie.
Montpellier are also in action on Saturday, in the Challenge Cup. They travel to The Rec to take on Bath. Montpellier come into the weekend in good form. Having started the season poorly, they found their feet in the new year. This came under the new management of Phillipe Saint-André.
Having won their last five in a row, Montpellier will be confident going into this game, but they will be wary of the threats that Bath present.
Inconsistency has been at the heart of Bath’s issues this season. On their day, they can cause any team problems, utilising players like Anthony Watson, Cameron Redpath and Sam Underhill. It will also be an intriguing day for Bath back-row, Zach Mercer. The Englishman has already agreed a future transfer at the end of the season. A transfer to Montpellier! He will have an opportunity to showcase his talent to his new employers as well as play against some of his future teammates.
Elsewhere, Ulster head to Welford Road to play Leicester in the other semi-final. Tournament favourites Ulster will have a task ahead of them to tame Steve Borthwick’s rejuvenated Tigers in order to secure their place in a European Final.