For the final round of the round robin, the Ciel et Blanc are playing away, in the other Yves du Manoir stadium, against Montpellier. A face-off that provides a foretaste of the knockout stages, as the winner will gain direct access to the semi-finals. (Credit photo : Fabrice Aygalenq // Attitude Rugby)
It is nothing less than a quarterfinal that the Ciel et Blanc will play today on the pitch at Yves du Manoir. Not the oh so historic pitch at Colombes but the ground in the ultra modern Ovalie quarter of Montpellier where, in this fascinating last day of the round robin, Montpellier Hérault Rugby (MHR) will have the home advantage.
Whatever the setting, however, the thrill is just the same. The thrill of the knockout stages. Because, even if both teams have already qualified, the stakes are high today for both clubs. It is a foretaste of the playoffs in which the winner will gain direct access to the semi-finals, to be played in Lille in two weeks. “At last, we are into the business end of the season! We train all year to be able to play games like this,” enthused François van der Merwe, the Ciel et Blanc’s South African second rower.
Currently in second place on the Top 14 table, two points ahead of Racing, with the home advantage MHR are clearly favourites. “Along with Toulon and Clermont, Montpellier is one of the three teams which have dominated this year’s championship,” considers Laurent Travers, the Racing forwards coach. “They are playing at home, and they will be highly motivated because they have the opportunity to qualify directly for the semi-finals.”
Sitting on a current sequence of five wins in a row, the Ciel et Blanc intend nevertheless to retain the momentum built up over the past weeks. Without pretention, but with serious ambitions. “On attack and on defence, we are getting better and better,” continues Travers. “We were able to test ourselves two weeks ago against Montferrand, and on Saturday (today) we will be able to measure ourselves against the team which has played the best rugby over the last 25 rounds.”
Winners of the home game in Colombes (17-12), winners of the away game in Montpellier last year (15-17), Racing still has important card up its sleeve. If a win today guarantees direct access to the semis, it requires only a losing bonus point to secure a home quarterfinal next week.
“Obviously we never play to lose,” insists Travers. “Montpellier is the favourite, but we will do all we can to ensure a quarterfinal on our home pitch. It would be a huge reward for everyone: for the supporters, the sponsors, the whole club, all together.”
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