Preview: Stade Francais v Racing

Date published: May 28 2015

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A Parisian derby in prime time is a dream clash to kick off the Top 14 barrages but neither team should be overly confident on Friday.

Stade Français make their return to the play-offs for the first time in six years and are certainly a team on the rise under Gonzalo Quesada and thanks to a promising generation of home grown talent.

A home knockout game was their reward for finishing fourth overall, but while they have produced some impressive performances in recent weeks, most notably in beating Racing away despite playing an hour with 14 men, their humiliating 27-0 loss to Brive last time out stalled their momentum.

Racing, in contrast, finished with a flourish as they cruised past Castres, securing their place in the top six as a result, having started the day in seventh.

Missing the play-offs would have been catastrophic for Jacky Lorenzetti's expensively assembled squad, and reports this week have emerged over his disappointment at his big money signings.

Friday could be the final game for the likes of Jonathan Sexton and Jamie Roberts, and neither has offered anywhere near value for money after signing lucrative deals.

A derby win wouldn't make everything better, but it would certainly be a start, with a potential rematch with Toulon awaiting them.

On form this season, Stade have looked the better side, and in the confrontations between the two teams, it's the pink side of Paris which has emerged victorious on both occasions.

Back in November the officiating was the main talking point of Stade's narrow win at Jean Bouin, with Racing fuming at a number of decisions.

They had much less reason to complain earlier this month when they were comprehensively outplayed despite Sergio Parisse's harsh red card when Bernard le Roux's subtle shirt pull went unnoticed as the Italian collided with Brice Dulin in the air.

Without their captain for an hour, Stade made the most of a dominant scrum and Morné Steyn's best performance since arriving in the French capital, to win comfortably.

With all that in mind, Stade on home soil sound like they should be favourites, and yet Racing seem to be made for knock-out rugby.

Their experience might have been lacking in their Champions Cup quarter-final loss to Saracens, but in comparison to Stade they are old hands at play-off rugby.

Combine that with a conservative game plan, and it's easy to see how they could grind their way to victory.

To do so they will need an improved performance in the set-piece. When they were beaten by Stade's 14 men, their usually dominant tight five was completely outplayed and conceded penalty after penalty at scrum-time.

For all the attacking flair of the likes of Jonathan Danty and injured duo Jules Plisson and Hugo Bonneval, it's another product of the Stade academy, tighthead Rabah Slimani, who could hold the key to the game.

A regular member of France's matchday squads, Slimani is among the very best scrummaging tightheads in the Top 14, and gives Stade a hard edge that could be crucial in the play-offs.

If he and Heinke van der Merwe can dominate as they did at Colombes three weeks ago, Racing will find it hard to set the platform to play their game.

The other area that Racing will target will be the lineout, the key to the success of all teams coached by Laurent Labit and Laurent Travers.

Les Ciel et Blanc have been the best in the league at stealing opposition ball this season and they will put the pressure on Rémi Bonfils to try to disrupt Stade ball.

Alexandre Flanquart will have a big part to play in countering Racing's maul in the air, while there are few better than Pascal Papé once the maul is set up, but even so, Stade want to avoid a territorial kicking battle.

Given how much is at stake, it's unlikely that we'll have a hugely open game, but both teams have plenty of attacking talent in their backlines.

Danty, Stade's powerful young centre, almost certainly would have made a French squad were this not a World Cup year, while his Fijian team-mate Waisea is arguably one of the two or three most dangerous strike runners in the league.

Racing, for all their efforts at playing up the jumper rugby, have a back three of Dulin, Juan Imhoff and Teddy Thomas which is about as dangerous as they come, while fit-again Alexandre Dumoulin offers similar bulk to Roberts, with added playmaking ability in midfield.

Ones to watch: Unfairly red-carded the last time these two teams met, it's fair to say nobody will be more up for this game than Sergio Parisse. The Italian number eight is one of the few players in the Stade side that has experience of play-off rugby, and his leadership will be key for a young side. As visible as ever around the park, he will have to help his players keep their cool in what will likely be a niggly atmosphere at Jean Bouin.

For Racing the key man could well be scrum-half Maxime Machenaud, who was unfortunate to be overlooked for France's World Cup squad. Although his side went a month and a half without winning a game prior to the Castres success, Machenaud's personal displays were simply outstanding. A real menace with ball in hand, as well as a smart kicker and good distributor, Machenaud has also grown as a leader this season. While Dimitri Szarzewski is nominally the club captain, Machenaud is the de facto leader and Racing's hopes rest to an extent on his shoulders.

Prediction: Stade won both regular season meetings between these teams and are playing at home where they lost just twice all season, but for all that, Racing look very dangerous. The big money signings may not have been worth their contracts, but Jonathan Sexton produced some of his best displays for Racing in last year's knock-outs. It will be tight but Racing should just grind it out. Racing by 4!

The teams:

Stade Français: tbc

Racing-Métro: tbc

Date: Friday, 28 May
Venue: Stade Jean Bouin, Paris
Kick-off: 21:00 local (20:00 GMT)
Referee: Romain Poite
Assistant Referees: Salem Attalah, Jean-Luc Rebollal
TMO: Eric Gonthier

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