Montpellier, Racing secure Semi-final places: Top14 Round 26 Wrap

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Top 14 Rugby
Stade Francais' Sergio Parisse passes the ball during the French Top 14 rugby union match between La Rochelle and Stade Francais on May 5, 2018 at the Marcel Deflandre stadium in La Rochelle, southwestern France. (Photo by XAVIER LEOTY / AFP) (Photo credit should read XAVIER LEOTY/AFP/Getty Images)

A Top14 Round 26 weekend culminated in the confirmation of Montpellier and Racing’s passage into the semi-finals. The final weekend of the regular season also resulted in the four playoff places being set.

Soon, those teams vying for a spot in the semi-finals and possible finale at the Stade de France in Paris, will all collide. And Last Word on Rugby cannot wait!

Here’s all you need to know ahead of the playoffs and semi-finals:

Top14 Round 26: Semi-finalists Confirmed

Montpellier finished the regular season just one point above Racing after a 32-24 loss to Lyon. Their away form has has frustrated them, losing their last four consecutive games on the road. Fortunately, a home semi final should put them in good stead to reach the final in Paris. The unbeaten run at home in the league has extended the whole of the season, with only two Champions Cup losses at home during the campaign.

Conversely, Racing finished their regular season a high. A 42-13 victory of Agen saw them close to finishing top of the table. Similar to Montpellier, Racing’s home form has been the catalyst for success this season, losing only once in all competitions at home this season – to Lyon back in September.

With the way in which both sides have played throughout the season, there’s a likely chance both will progress and meet in the final on 2 June.

Les Barrages #1 Toulon v Lyon

Lyon’s win over Montpellier saw them scrape into the playoffs – only three points the difference between progressing and seventh place. Lyon will face Toulon, where they haven’t won in their previous three attempts. An intimidating place, undoubtedly, especially with the likes of Chris Ashton scoring tries for fun, having accumulated the try scoring record this season.

But it’s difficult to see anything other than a Toulon victory. Their last loss at the Felix Mayol came at the hands of Racing back in November. Toulon’s form over recent weeks has peaked at the right time, playing with confidence and causing defences problems. Albeit losing to Pau on Saturday.

Verdict: Toulon win

Les Barrages #2 Toulouse v Castres

Toulouse kept the pressure on Racing for second place, but a final game at Clermont dispelled any chance of a home semi final. Toulouse’s Thomas Ramos and Yoann Huget have helped keep their side in contention throughout. Cheslin Kolbe in attack has been instrumental in getting his side in those attacking areas – racking up over 1000 metres in the process. Key players that will certainly be called upon against Castres.

Castres occupy the final playoff spot, finishing in sixth. A hefty 54-3 win over possible relegation battlers Oyonnax. Both Pau’s and La Rochelle’s victories weren’t enough to knock Castres off their perch. But Castres have won their last three meetings with Toulouse and will be confident of making it four in a row with the premise of facing Racing.

However Toulouse may just have the panache and experience this time round to avoid those same mistakes as previously.

Verdict: Toulouse win

Top14 Round 26: Relegation/Promotion Playoff

Perpignan’s win over Grenoble in the ProD2 final sees them return to the French top flight (since their departure back in 2014). Therefore, Grenoble will face Oyonnax in the accession match (playoff).

Oyonnax’s heavy defeat at Castres left them floundering in 13th. Fans might think “if only” as an win against Castres would have seen them safe. It would have seen Stade Francais drop into the playoff, after their 31-7 loss at La Rochelle. But, that was not meant to be – and now they fight to stay in the Top14 proper.

The last time Grenoble travelled to Oyonnax back in April 2016, they ran out 27-20 winners. However, at that time Oyonnax were without their talisman Ben Botica. Now a key member of the group, Botica will play a pivotal role in the fight for Top14 rugby next season.

Likewise, Grenoble fan favourite Fabien Alexandre will be on hand to quell the Oyonnax attack. A great ‘kockout match’ is the prospect for fans this weekend, with a winner who takes that all important Top14 league place as their prize.

Verdict: Oyonnax win (but it will be an entertaining match-up, with all on the line)

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After what has been a fantastic season in the Top14, the remaining knockout fixtures will only add to the season’s success.

To have made it to the final round with playoff places still up for grabs shows just how competitive the league has become. With a club as big as Perpignan back in the Top14 for next season, there will be huge confidence back in the south west that the club can really start to build again.

Before that though, a mouth-watering tie on Saturday between Oyonnax and Grenoble. Toulon will then face Lyon on Friday on May 18, while Toulon and Castres will battle it out on May 19.

The resulting semi-finals will be played the following week.

 

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