With the Pierre de Coubertin Trophy at stake today (2.55 pm French time), the Ciel et Blanc play host to Toulouse in the magnificent setting of the Stade de France. A crucial game for Racing Metro 92, both in terms of keeping their hopes of qualification alive and of producing some quality rugby
“It’s the game of the year!” Laurent Labit was adamant on the eve of this game against the Stade Toulousain. With only ten rounds left in the qualifying phase of the Top 14, and the Ciel et Blanc currently ranked in 8th position, our backs coach knows there are no more jokers in his pack of cards. “It is a real knock-out game for us, the pinnacle of our season,” added Labit. “We can envisage nothing other than a victory.”
The message is clear. Admittedly, only six points separate the Franciliens from the Toulousains in fourth place. But in this extraordinarily tight championship if the Ciel et Blanc are to maintain the slightest hope of qualifying for the knockout stage, they absolutely need a win against Toulouse. “There is no more room for error!” insists Henry Chavancy who will form the centre pairing today with our Welsh international Jamie Roberts. “We are hosting Toulouse, one of the heavy-weights of French rugby. But we are determined to show who is boss on our home turf.”
The visitors admittedly made the headlines last week by claiming that they would only turn up with their reserve team, but nobody in the Francilien camp is buying it. Even without their numerous French internationals, Toulouse will always be Toulouse. And with players of the ilk of Vincent Clerc, Hosea Gear, Yann David, Clément Poitrenaud, Joe Tekori, ou Romain Millo-Chluski, even a ‘C Team’ (to quote Guy Novès) will look pretty tidy on the field at Stade de France. “We are not going to fall into the trap of believing the Toulouse spin,” warns Chavancy. “We intend to show them the utmost respect.”
Forced to cover for the absence of our internationals Dimitri Szarzewski, Maxime Machenaud and Bernard Le Roux, coaches Laurent Travers and Laurent Labit have nevertheless formed a hugely-experienced side. With François van der Merwe, Jacques Cronje and Juandre Kruger there are three Springboks in the pack. While with Dan Lydiate on the side of the scrum, Mike Phillips and Jonny Sexton at halfback, and Roberts at inside centre, this will be the first time that our four British and Irish Lions will start a match together in the Top 14.
In short, a team with the double objective of nullifying Toulouse’s counter-attacking game, and of at last producing some quality rugby for the Ciel et Blanc. “Everyone in the squad still believes we can look forward to a successful end to the season,” said Labit. “We have played some good rugby in patches, and at training, the team is looking better and better. We just need to play together, play as a team for the full 80 minutes and the win will come,” he concluded. “Our survival depends on it.”
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