Racing Metro face tough Top 14 obstacle

Racing Metro face a tough obstacle in their progress to the French Top 14 play-offs in the shape of an away trip to Toulouse on Friday.

Racing sit sixth in the league, one place and six points behind Toulouse, but crucially seven points ahead of seventh-placed Biarritz, who will be looking for maximum points when they host Montauban on Saturday.

The Parisian club, close to signing promising Bayonne and France back Benjamin Fall, come into the game after a welcome 25-18 defeat of Brive, while Toulouse fell 26-10 at Biarritz, with just two more rounds of action remaining after this weeken’s action.

“It would certainly be a great excuse to have a few beers,” Racing coach Simon Mannix said of a possible victory over Toulouse, praising his players for raising the tempo towards the end of another long season.

“For a while now, we’ve seen an increase in intensity at training, maybe because the players are beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel.”

But the New Zealander warned that Toulouse would be no pushover, especially after their surprise roll-over at Biarritz.

“Toulouse are another dimension,” he said.

“They’re one of the biggest clubs in Europe, a French club which has transformed the game and become a model for all others.

“It’s really a club that shows the way. Us, well we’re coming from Pro D2 and it’s a privilege to play them.”

Toulouse, three-time European and 17-time French champions, will have to rebound from an awful second-half showing in the Basque stronghold of Biarritz.

“I still have confidence in the gameplan we put in place at the start of the match,” said Toulouse coach Guy Noves.

“But that didn’t stop me working hard on the issue of discipline because we gave away two or three unforgivable penalties while Biarritz were leading only 15-10.”

Noves will be happy to welcome back William Servat, Jean-Baptiste Poux, Thierry Dusautoir and Yannick Jauzion, all crucial members of France’s Grand Slam-winning team in the Six Nations.

But the veteran coach admitted that he and his players would also have an eye on the April 11 European Cup quarter-final clash against Stade Francais.

“If you were to ask me which of the two matches I would prefer to win, it would be the one against Stade Francais,” Noves said.

Stade Francais, languishing in ninth spot, host Clermont at the Stade de France, with around 70,000 spectators expected for the Saturday showdown.

In a further publicity coup for owner Max Guazzini, it means the Parisian club will finish the season with an average gate of more than 30,000 per game over the season, for the first time in the history of professional rugby.

However, Stade, soundly beaten 44-23 by Top 14 leaders Perpignan last weekend, will have their work cut out to peg back third-placed Clermont, fresh from putting Montpellier to the sword in a six-try thrashing, 41-3.

Clermont full-back Anthony Floch said the team’s goal was now to qualify in one of the top two spots to avoid an extra play-off game for those clubs finishing between third and sixth.

“That’s the target, it would mean us avoiding a play-off game and to be spared a game is important for recuperation and fatigue levels,” said Floch, with Clermont just one point adrift of Perpignan and second-placed Castres.

“But to finish in the top two, we have to win at least one away match, either in Paris or Biarritz.”

Clermont’s tough run-in sees them play reigning champions Leinster in the European Cup next week and then a home game against Castres, who host Perpignan on Saturday.



Toulouse v Racing-Metro



Biarritz v Montauban,
Brive v Bourgoin,
Castres v Perpignan,
Montpellier v Albi,
Stade Francais v Clermont,

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