La Rochelle, Clermont clash in finale thriller

Fri, 05 May 2017 14:14
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TOP 14 PREVIEW: A top-of-the-table clash between La Rochelle and Clermont headlines a thrilling finale to the Top 14 regular season with the battle for play-off and European spots adding extra spice.

La Rochelle with 84 points and already guaranteed to finish top travel to second-placed Clermont (74 points), who are chasing the second automatic semi-final place.

Montpellier, two points behind, are also bidding for a semi-final berth, with Toulon, Castres and Racing 92 rounding out the top six.

The top six teams enter the knockout stage, with teams finishing third to sixth playing quarterfinals.

La Rochelle, chasing a maiden Top 14 title, will be at full strength at Clermont, whose only domestic title came back in 2010.

But Clermont could be without stalwart Morgan Parra after the scrum-half picked up a calf injury in the European Cup semi-final as they look to next week's final against Saracens.

Ludovic Radosavljevic should start in the scrum for his final match at the Stade Marcel-Michelin before moving to Pau.

Paris giants Stade Francais and Racing 92's play-off hopes will go down to the wire after Stade defeated Racing 27-23 last weekend to keep their dream alive.

Champions Racing, in the sixth and final play-off spot with 58 points, just ahead of Stade, also with 58, host Bordeaux with their Paris rivals travelling to Montpellier.

Montpellier's bid for the second automatic semi-final berth has been hit by a string of injuries with centre Vincent Martin out for the season with ruptured cruciate knee ligaments and Francois Steyn, Antoine Battut and Benjamin Fall also sidelined.

Toulon host Pau, also chasing the play-offs, as they sit eighth.

Toulon will be without New Zealand legend Ma'a Nonu, who was cited for a bruising tackle against Bordeaux.

But James O'Connor should move into the centre alongside Mathieu Bastareaud, with Francois Trinh-Duc uncertain with a niggling thigh problem.

Pau flank Pierrick Gunther warned to expect fireworks at his former side Toulon's Stade Mayol stronghold.

"It's like a final for us. It's an apotheosis. If we win, it's a dream come true. Some have won at the Mayol, why not us?" asked Gunther.

Fallen giants Toulouse will be playing for nothing but pride at home against relegated southwestern rivals Bayonne.

The 19-time French champions will be absent from the play-offs for the first time in 41 years after last week's 57-7 thrashing by Castres.

"It's time for it to end so that we can ask ourselves the right questions and find the answers as to why we had a rotten season," said back Maxime Medard.

The match will also mark the departure of a host of 30-something players who last lifted the title back in 2012 including Thierry Dusautoir, Patricio Albacete, Gurthro Steenkamp, Census Johnston, Grégory Lamboley and Luke McAlister.

Fixtures:

Saturday, May 6:  
Brive v Castres
Clermont v La Rochelle
Grenoble v Lyon
Montpellier v Stade Francais
Racing 92 v Bordeaux-Begles
Toulon v Pau
Toulouse v Bayonne

Table (played, won, drawn, lost, points for, points against, bonus points, total points):
La Rochelle      25 17 3  5 681 468 10 84
Clermont         25 14 3  8 770 536 12 74
Montpellier      25 15 0 10 723 538 12 72
Toulon           25 13 2 10 642 499  9 65
Castres          25 13 1 11 640 476  9 63
Racing92         25 13 1 11 564 596  4 58
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Stade Français   25 12 1 12 617 611  8 58
Pau              25 12 1 12 592 669  7 57
Lyon             25 11 2 12 552 579  7 55
Brive            25 12 1 12 544 607  4 54
Bordeaux-Bègles  25 11 1 13 549 559  7 53
Toulouse         25 10 0 15 497 549  8 48
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Grenoble         25  6 1 18 558 831  7 33 - relegated
Bayonne          25  6 3 16 454 865  0 30 - relegated

Note: Top six in play-offs; bottom two relegated

Agence France-Presse