Top 14 Preview: Barrages

Date published: May 18 2018

The Top 14 has reached the play-off stage where Toulon and Lyon will begin proceedings at the Stade Mayol on Friday night.

Toulouse and Castres follow on Saturday as the four sides battle for the right to face either Montpellier or Racing 92 in the semi-finals of the competition.

Toulon vs Lyon
Stade Mayol

This game is very much a case of expectation against hope. Toulon are used to success having recently claimed three successive Heineken Cup trophies, as well as the domestic title in 2014, whereas this is a new experience for Lyon.

Pierre Mignoni’s men may well be backed with plenty of financial power and, as a result, contain plenty of experienced individuals within the squad, but the club’s last championship win came back in 1933.

In the last decade, they have not been awash with success in the highest echelon of the French game after yo-yoing between the Top 14 and Pro D2.

With that in mind, they have done remarkably well to qualify for the top-six and give themselves an opportunity of reaching the last four, but it is difficult to see them overcoming Fabien Galthie’s outfit at the Stade Mayol.

While inconsistency has plagued Toulon’s campaign, they have found their form in the later stages of the season and were not far off automatic qualification for the semi-finals.

The hosts’ team is star-studded and in Chris Ashton, Josua Tuisova and Semi Radradra they have a lethal back three, with the Englishman in particular impressing after claiming the league’s try-scoring record.

There were initially reservations over the signing of Ashton but he has proven his worth and helping the side to the title would be a great retort to England boss Eddie Jones, who often overlooked the former Saracens man.

Date: Friday, May 18
Kick-off: 21:00 local (19:00 GMT)
Referee: Mathieu Raynal
Assistant referees: Alexandre Ruiz, Thomas Charabas
TMO: Denis Grenouillet

Toulouse vs Castres
Stade Ernest-Wallon

A much tougher game to call, despite Toulouse’s name being synonymous with French championships, as Castres have consistently qualified for the play-offs over recent years.

Although Christophe Urios’ men finished a place below Lyon in the table, they have plenty of experience at this stage of the competition and also won the title in 2013.

Remarkably, that is more recent than the 19-times champions, whose last domestic trophy came a year before that, in 2012. Under the guidance of legendary head honcho Guy Noves, the team had shown a steady decline since the heady days of the 1990s and 2000s, but they have been revitalised this season.

Boss Ugo Mola was a man under pressure following his second year in charge, with the side finishing in 12th in 2016/17, but they go into this game as favourites to claim a place in the last four after just missing out on the top-two.

Not too much has changed on the playing staff but they look sharper and fitter, while the individuals have simply raised their level. Cheslin Kolbe and Antoine Dupont have proven astute additions, however, and have played a crucial role in their resurgence in 2017/18.

Castres will provide a test of their capabilities and Urios has yet again shown his qualities as a coach by taking the club into the barrages once more, but they possibly lack the star quality of the other teams in the play-offs to go further.

Date: Saturday, May 19
Kick-off: 16:15 local (14:15 GMT)
Referee: Romain Poite
Assistant referees: Ludovic Cayre, Cyril Lafon
TMO: Philippe Bonhoure