Sunday, May 31, 2015

Top 14: Americas Exports - Barrage Play-offs

Photo Rugby Rama
Two of France's three heavy-weight clubs from a decade ago secured passage to the Top 14 Semi Finals this weekend. In contrasting barrage play-offs Stade Français and Toulouse earned the right to contest the Top 14 Semi Finals against Toulon and Clermont Auvergne next weekend in Bordeaux. All four have players from the Americas on their player rosters and it is highly likely that they will be involved in the Semi Finals. The Americas is the only World Rugby region yet to be allocated hosting rights to a Rugby World Cup. This year a fourth World Cup will be played in Europe, continuing the 50% trend. Former Argentine captain and current World Rugby representative Agustín Pichot has been vocal in wanting Argentina to host in 2023. As of today no intention  of bidding has been made to World Rugby.

Stade Français 38-15 Racing Métro
The battle of the Parisian clubs saw the Gonzalo Quesada coached Stade Français booking a Semi Final against Toulon next weekend in Bordeaux. In qualifying Stade Français have overturned a six year wait in which the club has not reached the Semi Finals. Racing Métro, by way of comparison, have missed out on a third straight Semi Final after again being eliminated in the barrage.

Both teams had Argentine players involved with Sergio Parisse, Tomás Lavanini and Juan Imhoff all starting. All are assured of places in this year's Rugby World Cup but Parisse will be playing for Italy. USA international Scott LaValla was unused by Stade Français as was Puma Juan Cruz Guillemain. Of them LaValla is a certainty in the World Cup.

Lavanini has confirmed he will be leaving Racing Métro at the completion of the season to join the new Argentine Super Rugby franchise. He was selected throughout 2014 as a starting second-rower for Argentina despite, at the time, lacking professional experience abroad. Head coach Daniel Hourcade utilized him ahead of the likes of Patricio Albacete, Manuel Carizza and Tomás Vallejos Cinalli. 

Toulouse 20-19 Oyonnax
A dramatic barrage play-off in Toulouse on Saturday afternoon saw the home side trailing for the majority of the match. It took a late try to replacement prop Cyril Baille to give Toulouse a one point advantage and book a Semi Final against Clermont next weekend in Bordeaux. At the heart of Oyonnax's effort was Benjamín Urdapilleta who kicked fourteen points for his club, including long range attempts from unfavorable angles.

The debate surrounding the international future of Urdapilleta continues. Despite performing well in the Top 14 he remains unwanted by Pumas headcoach Daniel Hourcade. Urdapilleta last played a test in June 2013 but finished the Top 14 as the second highest point scorer behind Jonathan Wisniewski of Grenoble. Also unwanted is Patricio Albacete who was caught in trouble for calling Hourcade a liar. Albacete played the full match in Toulouse's second-row but will not play in the World Cup.

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