Endgame magic at its finest. Designated as favorites at the start of the season, Toulouse and La Rochelle, 4th and 5th in the regular phase, face each other from the play-offs of the Top 14, Saturday June 11 at the Ernest-Wallon stadium (9:05 p.m.), in Toulouse.
Thus, the road will end even before the semi-finals for one of the last two European champions. The extreme density of the Top 14 in no way indicates that the survivor of this shock will raise the shield of Brennus, in two weeks. But this poster, salivating, has everything of a final before the hour. Franceinfo: sport explains why.
Here is the long-awaited program of the final phase of the TOP 14
A most tempting menu pic.twitter.com/i1qCsat5PQ
— TOP 14 Rugby (@top14rugby) June 5, 2022
Because there will be a plethora of French internationals
We would not like to be in the place of the advertiser who chooses the players on the bill to promote the match in the streets of the Pink City. At least he is spoiled for choice, as the sequins will sparkle on the Ernest-Wallon meadow on Saturday. Ten Toulouse players indeed took part in the last Grand Slam of the XV of France, starting with the Dupont-Ntamack hinge. Four of the eight “golgoths” of the tricolor pack (Cyril Baille, Julien Marchand, François Cros and Anthony Jelonch) also play in red and black.
La Rochelle is not left out, although to a lesser degree. With three representatives in the decisive game of the Blues against England, the Maritimes were the second largest suppliers of internationals. Uini Atonio, Grégory Alldritt and Jonathan Danty, 377 kilos and 88 combined caps, are the spearheads of Stade Rochelais. There are also other regulars of Marcoussis, such as Dany Priso, Pierre Bourgarit or Brice Dulin. And again, we are not talking about the Australian (Will Skelton) or New Zealand (Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Victor Vito) internationals…
Because the Stade Rochelais is revengeful
At the end of May, the Maritimes finally defeated the Indian sign, winning their first major trophy against Leinster (24-21) in the Champions Cup final. This feat did not satisfy the Rochelais deprived, last year, of two trophies by Toulouse, in the European Cup (17-22) and in the Top 14 (8-18). “We want to go to the end. We want to continue to party together”smiled the captain, Romain Sazy, at a press conference.
It is also a question of breaking a long negative spiral against Stade Toulouse, victorious in the last six direct confrontations between the two teams. But this time, La Rochelle seems better equipped to dispose of its rival. The club with the caravel remains on five victories in a row, including a prestigious success at Racing 92. Opposite, Toulouse has just won two convincing victories, but without necessarily fueling to the full extent. Beaten three times on home soil this year and crushed by Leinster in the semi-finals of the Champions Cup (17-40), Toulouse is perhaps more takeable this year.
Because the classification of the two clubs is (perhaps) a sham
Questioning the verdict of a nine-month, 26-day long regular season is a delicate exercise. Do Toulouse and La Rochelle deserve these 4th and 5th places? If we refer to the average position occupied over the season (3rd place for the Red and Black, 6th for the Yellow and Black), yes. Both have experienced troubled times, at the start of the season for the Maritimes, in the heart of winter for the Haut-Garonne. But they were admittedly not helped by periods when league games and national team games overlapped.
In a not very elastic Top 14, three small points separated them from Montpellier, second and directly semi-finalist. Despite some irregularity, Toulouse and La Rochelle posted the two best attacks (71 and 73 tries scored), the two best defenses (432 and 466 points conceded) and the two biggest point differences (+206 and +174). It is frankly difficult to make more attractive.