Preview: Top 14 Final

Date published: June 24 2016

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Racing 92 and Toulon will battle it out to become champions of France on Friday in the spectacular setting of the Nou Camp in Barcelona.

Racing have not won a Top 14 title since 1990 while for all of Toulon's success on the European stage with that dominant run of three straight trophies between 2013 and 2015, domestic glory has eluded them save for their win in 2014.

Something therefore has to give, and after years falling short of being a serious contender Racing this season have at last begun to look like a growing force, beginning to repay some of Jacky Lorenzetti's extensive investment.

That couldn't happen in the Champions Cup, losing in the final to Saracens, but the signing of Dan Carter has offered Racing the step up in class they needed to compete with the big teams at the top of the French table.

Carter limped off against Saracens in the European final in Lyon, but crucially starts in Barcelona.

He and his side will draw real confidence from their quarter-final Champions Cup win over Toulon earlier in the season, when Maxime Machenaud won his battle off the kicking tee with Jonathan Pélissié.

Both goalkickers in Machenaud and the returning Leigh Halfpenny have a massive role to play considering how the Top 14 finals of recent years have been cagey affairs. No side in fact has scored more than 20 points in the big game since Perpignan in 2009.

Eight of Racing's starting XV are French qualified compared to five from Toulon while Chris Masoe once again takes on his former side in a major cup game since his departure last season. Juandré Kruger, on the Racing bench, is moving in the opposite direction.

Friday's clash will also be about goodbyes for Toulon to some players who have served them through the glory years, with both Armitage brothers and Frédéric Michalak moving on.

Three matches this season between the two sides have been settled by five points or less, and Friday will be no different.

Player to Watch

For Racing 92: Back in the quarter-final it was Juan Imhoff's sensational early score which set Racing on the path to victory, and the Argentina international has proven on more than one occasion what a potent finisher he can be out wide for club and country. Chances might be few and far between in Barcelona and Imhoff has to take them when they fall his way.

For Toulon: Set to miss out on the initial selection, Mathieu Bastareaud comes in at outside centre following Ma'a Nonu's concussion injury. Still an effective force on his day, Bastareaud and Josua Tuisova will be tasked with doing the damage for Toulon out wide when possible.

Head-to-head: Two captains known for leading from the front have pivotal roles to play. Dimitri Szarzewski was outstanding when the two sides met in Europe and will need to be again on Friday. Guilhem Guirado is a hooker in the same mould, missing from France's tour of Argentina but as important for his club as he is for his country.

Previous results this season:

Toulon 22-27 Racing
Racing 19-16 Toulon (Champions Cup)
Racing 20-21 Toulon

Prediction: Another tight affair but even though Toulon have that title-winning experience, this feels like Racing's year after that amazing extra-time semi-final win over Clermont. Racing by three.

The teams:

Racing 92: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Joe Rokocoko, 13 Johan Goosen, 12 Henry Chavancy, 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Chris Masoe, 7 Yannick Nyanga, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Manuel Carizza, 4 Bernard le Roux, 3 Benjamin Tameifuna, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski (c), 1 Eddy Ben Arous
Replacements: 16 Camille Chat, Khatchik Vartanov, 18 Juandré Kruger, 19 Antoine Claassen, 20 Xavier Chauveau, 21 Marc Andreu, 22 Albert Vulivuli, 23 Luc Ducalcon

Toulon: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Josua Tuisova, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 Jonathan Pélissié, 8 Steffon Armitage, 7 Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe, 6 Mamuka Gorgodze, 5 Konstantin Mikautadze, 4 Samu Manoa, 3 Levan Chilachava, 2 Guilhem Guirado (c), 1 Xavier Chiocci
Replacements: 16 Jean Charles Orioli, 17 Florian Fresia, 18 Romain Taofiféuna, 19 Virgile Bruni, 20 Théo Belan, 21 Delon Armitage, 22 Frédéric Michalak, 23 Manusa Saulo

Date: Friday, June 24
Venue: Nou Camp, Barcelona
Kick-off: 20:45 local (18:45 GMT)

Referee: Mathieu Raynal
Assistant Referees: Romain Poite, Cyril Lafon
TMO: Vincent Azoulay

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