After a brilliant win over Toulouse in the playoffs, the Ciel et Blanc are now only 80 minutes away from playing the final of the TOP 14. But before touching their dream, the Franciliens must first rise to the challenge of the favourites Toulon, in the semi-finale this evening (8:45PM) in Lille. (Credit photo : Fabrice Aygalenq // Attitude Rugby)
Look who’s coming to the semis! It was not so long ago that these two teams were battling it out together in PRO D2, but a handful of seasons later here they are, Racing Metro 92 and the Rugby Club Toulonnais, confronting each other in the semi-final of the TOP 14.
The two teams bear a lot of resemblance, in as much as, after a long period in the doldrums they have both fought their way back in to the Elite of French rugby, Toulon making it back up to the TOP 14 in 2009, followed by Racing a year later n 2010. Since then, while in their different ways, they have both risen to become major actors in French and European rugby, Toulon still holds a distinct advantage. Because if the Franciliens have managed to participate in the knockout phases of the championship every year since 2010, the men from the Var have done even better, playing in five finals in three years. “There is no need to enumerate all the feats of Toulon, but quite simply they are the best in Europe,” warns Laurent Travers, the Ciel et Blanc forwards coach who, alongside Laurent Labit, will tonight be in their third successive semi-final.
Champion of Europe in 2013, about to defend their title in the H Cup final next week, losing finalist of last year’s TOP 14, finishing top of the table in the 2014 round-robin, Toulon is without doubt a huge challenge for the Racingmen.
“Stay close to our game”
But last week, while the Toulonnais were having a weekend off, in a game of rare commitment and intensity the Ciel et Blanc pulled off a historic exploit, qualifying for the semis by beating the Stade Toulousain (16-21) in Toulouse. A victory which enabled the Franciliens to regain all their confidence, especially after the hiccup against Montpellier (44-10) the week before.
“Winning in Toulouse enabled us to go on to the next round, but we must keep our feet on the ground,” insists Antoine Battut, the Racing captain. “But we must stay close to our game, and not forget who we are, as happened to us in Montpellier.”
Montpellier will thus be very much on their minds this evening, because on top of the recent heavy loss several old-timers on the group, including Henry Chavancy, François van der Merwe, Jacques Cronje, Ben Fall et Jonathan Wisniewsky still remember the heart-breaking loss to Montpellier by one point (25-26) in the 2010 semi-final in Marseille.
“We are playing against the best team in Europe, so we are going to need the same solidarity, the same aggressive commitment, and the same desire not to give an inch that we showed in Toulouse,” says Chavancy. “But on attack, we are also going to use everything we have been working on in training, to impose our game and force Toulon into making mistakes.”
“We are all aware that we are only 80 minutes away from a French championship final, which is what we all dream about,” concludes Chavancy. “Four years ago we came very close. But losing a TOP 14 semi by one point is a horrible thing to go through, so we are going to do all we can to avoid experiencing the same thing against Toulon.”
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