Top 14 Preview: Semi-finals

Date published: June 17 2016

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And then there were four. Brittany will be the venue for this year’s Top 14 semi-finals as the top four seeds face off in Rennes.

League chiefs will be hoping for some exciting games after a pair of quarter-finals which did not live up to their billing.

Racing relied on their goalkicking and rock solid defence to edge out Toulouse, and their reward will be a clash with table toppers Clermont on Friday.

Meanwhile Jake White and his Montpellier juggernaut were too good for Castres last week and will be hoping to inflict a second win over Toulon in a matter of weeks, having beaten the three-time European champions in the penultimate round of the regular season.

Fixtures

Friday

Clermont v Racing 92

Saturday

Toulon v Montpellier


Clermont v Racing 92
Roazhon Park, Rennes

The league’s best defence will look to stifle the most attacking team in the championship, in what should be an intriguing contrast of styles.

Racing won both fixtures between the teams this season, including a shock win at the Marcel Michelin when they had sent something of a weakened team.

Dan Carter made his return against Toulouse, but arguably it was Johan Goosen who was the key to the victory, and the Springbok has probably been Racing’s most important player this season.

There were some concerns up front, and the return of Luc Ducalcon, who had reportedly suffered a torn quad just two weeks ago, is a real boost if it means Ben Tameifuna doesn’t have to play the full 80 minutes.

Elsewhere the back three of Brice Dulin, Joe Rokocoko and Juan Imhoff should ensure that while Racing’s strength is in defence, they can still take their chances when they come.

For Clermont the key will be to prove that they are more than just a great regular season team, and that they can do it on the biggest stage.

It’s now been seven years since their lone Top 14 title, falling in the final a year ago. They come into the game in fine form, and finished well clear at the top of the table, but this will be a step up.

A lot will depend on half-back duo Morgan Parra and Camille Lopez, and the latter in particular has plenty to prove having dropped down the pecking order with France.

Getting the better of Carter in his head-to-head battle would surely help Lopez’s cause.

Clermont: 15 Scott Spedding, 14 David Strettle, 13 Aurélien Rougerie, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Nick Abendanon, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Alexandre Lapandry, 6 Damien Chouly, 5 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Daniel Kotze, 2 John Ulugia, 1 Raphaël Chaume
Replacements: 16 Pellow van der Westhuizen, 17 Thomas Domingo, 18 Paul Jedrasiak, 19 Viktor Kolelishvili, 20 Ludovic Radosavljevic, 21 Brock James, 22 Noa Nakaitaci, 23 Davit Zirakashvili

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 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Eddy Ben Arous
Replacements: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Khatchik Vartanov, 18 Juandré Kruger, 19 Antonie Claassen, 20 Xavier Chauveau, 21 Marc Andreu, 22 Albert Vulivuli, 23 Luc Ducalcon

This season’s results: Racing won 20-16 in Clermont in December and 26-20 at Colombes in May
Kick-off: 20:45 local (19:45 GMT)
Referee: Alexandre Ruiz


Toulon v Montpellier
Roazhon Park, Rennes

For years Toulon were criticised for being a bunch of mercenaries, but if Mourad Boudjellal pushed the boundaries, Mohed Altrad has gone to even greater extremes.

Under Jake White Montpellier regularly name starting XVs with as many players called Du Plessis as they do Frenchmen, but Altrad won’t mind provided it works.

There’s nothing complicated about the White method, Montpellier have the biggest, most powerful pack in the league, and will look to steamroller every opposition.

In Paul Willemse and Jacques du Plessis, their second row combination is a mix of sheer size, and incredible athleticism.

Bismarck du Plessis remains a top class operator at hooker, while also being able to get under the opposition skin, and another former Springbok, Pierre Spies, is enjoying himself.

The duo of Demetri Catrakilis and Francois Steyn at ten and 12 are indicative of the direct style Montpellier will employ, and against an occasionally fragile Toulon side that may well be enough.

There’s no question that the latest version of Toulon is not as an all-conquering as its predecessors, the loss of Bakkies Botha, Carl Hayman and Chris Masoe last season left a big hole.

Despite that they still managed to finish second in the league and when Matt Giteau is fit, they are a threat for any team.

Their biggest weapon though, is Josua Tuisova, and with Boudjellal having just signed up two more Fijian youngsters, he’s clearly looking to pick up the top young talent across the globe in a bid to return to the summit.

Whether they have enough with this current squad to see off Montpellier remains to be seen.

Teams to follow…

This season’s results: Toulon won 52-8 in November and Montpellier won 36-21 in May
Kick-off: 20:45 local (19:45 GMT)
Referee: Romain Poite

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