Montpellier and Castres both won their semi finals to book their place in the Top14 final. Despite being held in Lyon, Montpellier cruised through at the expense of Lyon, who were playing in the first ever Top14 semi final.
Top14 favourites Racing were humbled by an in form Castres side that could cause Montpellier real problems at the Stade de France on Saturday night.
Finalist #1 Montpellier
Montpellier finished the regular season top of the table, giving themselves the best possible chance of progressing to the final. A semi final against Lyon, offered some resistance but as the league leaders showed so often this season, have the class and experience to grind out victories.
Against Lyon, the table toppers were cool and calm under pressure. The boots of Frans Steyn and Ruan Pienaar were well worked and could prove the difference in the final. Montpellier have a knack of getting the best out of their players when they need it most. Louis Picamoles and Nemani Nadolo punished the Lyon defence and ultimately made them chase the game and forfeiting their place in the final.
If Montpellier are to win their maiden Top14 final, they will need all 23 to contribute. Montpellier’s forward pack have dominated teams throughout the season, but up against Castres, all bets will be off. Given Castres’ performance in the knockout stages, keeping the scoreboard ticking could be the key to a Montpellier win.
Finalist #2 Castres
Castres finished their regular season in sixth place in the Barrages and looked an unlikely finalist given their initial game against Toulouse and then their semi final against Racing. Their recent form and especially their performances against two top French sides shows they’ll be no walkover in the final.
Castres have the capability to go all the way on Saturday and history is certainly on their side. A win in Paris would take their tally to five Top14 titles – their most recent coming in 2013.
Their semi final epitomised the run of form that elevated them into the playoffs. Castres took the game to their opponents – opening a lead and using their strong defence to deny opportunities. Racing came up against a solid defence and even with 14 men, Castres were still able to shut the door. As with Montpellier, Castres can call upon the reliable boots of Ben Urdapiletta and Rory Kockott to create the platform to score. The kicking battle will make for a fascinating watch.
For a side like Castres to finish sixth in the regular season and then potentially win the title shows just how competitive the league is. As in previous years, the Top14 has been dominated by a handful of sides. That shift in momentum has truly swung in favour of sides that capitalise on opportunities.
In Montpellier and Castres, it’s difficult to pick out a winner. Montpellier have their bulldozing ball carriers, but Castres have a resilience and stoic defence that may just land them the title.
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