Saturday, May 10, 2014

Top 14: Americas Exports Les Barrages Wrap

Semi Finals to be played next weekend
The final four have been confirmed for the Top 14. One of Toulon, Montpellier, Racing Métro or last seasons champions, Castres, will be the 2014 French Champions. Racing Métro and Castres confirmed that they will be joining the pre-qualified Toulon and Montpellier in the Semi Finals to be played in Lille next weekend. The barrage play-offs featured players from Argentina, Canada and Uruguay as the last remaining IRB identified region, the Americas, showed again why Argentina should host Rugby World Cup 2023.

Toulouse 16-21 Racing Métro
Home victories this season have been extremely rare. Throughout the season visiting sides have struggled to win on the road as even relegation threatened were able to win over leading teams at home. As such logic implied that Toulouse would be able to win at home to book a place in the Semi Finals on Friday evening. The most successful team in the history of French rugby was, nevertheless, unable to deliver as it was defeated and thus eliminated. 

For the first time in twenty-one years Toulouse will, subsequently, not be involved in the Semi Finals of the French championship. Stade Toulousain was defeated by the visiting Racing Métro who secured a final four spot against Toulon. The performances of the Toulouse side have been significantly down compared to those of previous years. The club's unimpressive form in the Heineken Cup saw it thumped by Munster and it is now the official worst Toulouse side in the professional era. 

The club has many veteran French international players and a number of whom who have been regulars under the regime of Phillipe Saint-Andre have failed to produce the required standard of performances that France needs at the international level. The required standard was not reached against Racing Métro on Friday as the visiting side from the north confirmed its place in the final four by winning though the boot of Jonny Sexton. 

Involved in the fixture were three players likely to be playing in the 2014 Rugby Championship for Argentina. Former vice captain Patricio Albacete started for the home side and played the full match in the second-row. Juan Imhoff started on the left wing and also played th full match. He was joined in the Racing Métro starting lineup by Juan Martín Hernández who played wing. Former French international Florian Fritz was the subject of controversy after he was allowed to play on after suffering concussion.

Clermont 22-16 Castres
For the second consecutive year Castres Olympique have eliminated Clermont Auvergne from the Top 14. The 2013 French champions underlined why Clermont is considered by many as being the chokers of European club rugby as the club lost three French finals in a row from 2007-2009, failed in Heineken Cup Semi Finals and finals and again fell short today.

The narrow loss means that the five year undefeated streak at the Stade Marcel Michelin is over. After previously having last been defeated at the ground un 2009 Clermont the incredible winning run has been ended at seventy-seven matches. With it Clermont's season is over, likely to the delight of Phillipe Saint-Andre who can have greater access to Clermont and Toulouse players - the home of thirteen of the thirty-one players in the squad to face Australia and the future homes of other squad members.

With both Toulouse and Clermont crashing out of the Heineken Cup and Top 14 there will need to be a serious rethink of the likely French squad for Rugby World Cup 2015. Indeed the form shown since in the past year has not been up to the usual standards of French rugby.

Clermont's French test players did not impress as players including Wesley Fofana, Benjamin Kayser, and Morgan Parra lacked the flair that has made them so important for the club. Starting in the second-row was Canadian Jamie Cudmore who formed a 72 year old combination with former Scottish international Nathan Hines for the final time. The outcoming Hines played against Uruguay's Rodrigo Capó Ortega who is due to play for Uruguay in 2014 for the first time in five years. Also starting for Castres was the uncapped Ramiro Herrera who played tighthead prop and demonstrated why he is a future option at test level for Daniel Hourcade.

Semi Finals 
Friday May 16 Toulon v Racing Métro, Lille
Saturday May 17 Montpellier v Castres, Lille

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