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Fri 27 Apr 2018 | 09:17

PREVIEW: Montpellier poised for first place

PREVIEW: Montpellier poised for first place
Fri 27 Apr 2018 | 09:17

PREVIEW: Montpellier poised for first place

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Montpellier top the table by six points and a win would guarantee first place and a bye in the first round of the playoffs, regardless of what their pursuers do.

Pau are seventh, one place out of the post-season spots, and defeat could eliminate them.

Whatever happens, Montpellier are planning a "carnival," with fancy dress and prizes, to celebrate the last regular-season home game of a season in which the club, which has never won the French title, has continued their rise.

For one Pau player, former All Black Conrad Smith, this match represents a final chance to reach the Top 14 playoffs and an opportunity to extend his career by a few matches.

The double World Cup winner has announced that at 36, he plans to retire after this season.

Another World Cup winner, Bryan Habana, 34, has also declared that this season will be his last.

But like fellow Toulon winger Vincent Clerc, a World Cup finalist with France, who is also quitting, Habana will probably not get a chance to play in what could be Toulon's last home game of the season.

Toulon, in fourth, take on Castres who are four points behind in sixth. The race is so tight that either team could finish in the top two, and gain a bye, or drop to eighth and miss the playoffs.

Toulon coach Fabien Galthie, like Habana a former world rugby player of the year, hasn't picked the South African in the league this season and has started Clerc only once.

With the stakes so high, Galthie is unlikely to give in to sentimentality now, and Habana isn't happy that, unlike a former Toulon star, Jonny Wilkinson, he has not been allowed to "choose his exit."

"I know that coaching is not easy," Habana said this week. "In my position, there are class players in Toulon."

"But I think I have the profile and the experience to be an option…and at least to play one last time."

Second-place Toulouse host the other outsider hoping to sneak into the playoffs, eighth-placed La Rochelle.

Racing are third, level with Toulouse on points. But after winning a European Cup semi-final in Bordeaux last weekend might feel less pressure when they return to the Chaban Delmas stadium to play Bordeaux, even though victory will ensure a play-off spot.

Yet Racing coach Laurent Labit said he dreams of "putting a star" on the Racing shirt by beating Leinster to become champions of Europe.

"It's a huge brain teaser," said Labit. "You can't fire blanks in the league but we have a squad to manage."

At another end of the table, Brive face a second consecutive game against a relegation rival.

In the last round, at Oyonnax, who started the match in the last place, Brive were thrashed, 40-17.

On Saturday they are away to Stade Francais, the team Brive must catch to escape the drop.

Racing are third, level with Toulouse on points. But after winning a European Cup semi-final in Bordeaux last weekend might feel less pressure when they return to the Chaban Delmas stadium to play Bordeaux, even though victory will ensure a playoff spot.

Yet Racing coach Laurent Labit said he dreams of "putting a star" on the Racing shirt by beating Leinster to become champions of Europe.

"It's a huge brain teaser" said Labit. "You can't fire blanks in the league but we have a squad to manage."

At another end of the table, Brive face a second consecutive game against a relegation rival.

In the last round, at Oyonnax, who started the match in the last place, Brive were thrashed, 40-17.

On Saturday they are away to Stade Francais, the team Brive must catch to escape the drop.

Fixtures (all times GMT)

Saturday, April 28

Toulon v Castres (12.45)
Agen v Clermont (18.45)
Montpellier  v Pau (18.45)
Oyonnax v Lyon (18.45)
Stade Francais v Brive (18.45)

Sunday, April 29

Bordeaux v Racing 92 (12.30)
Toulouse v La Rochelle (14.50)

Agence France-Presse

PV: 2
Preview: Montpellier Poised For First Place - France | Rugby365