With the French Top 14 semi-finals, all set to go from Friday, June 17, matches including Castres, Toulouse, Montpellier, and the Bordeaux Begles will determine who can claim the famed Bouclier de Brennus shield.
The pinnacle prize in French Rugby, the sides will compete as much to display their club’s abilities to peak but to also underline the form of the French team’s across Europe. Winners of the Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup, the trend has reinforced the feeling that ahead of the 2023 Rugby World Cup next year, the game in France is at its strongest in a generation.
After a week off, table-topping Castres and Montpellier will feel the weight of expectation on them. Whereas Toulouse and the Bordeaux Begles may just as well ‘throw everything at it’ to reach the 123rd French rugby competition final. So the obvious pressure is there, as it will be over in England for the Premiership final, and down in New Zealand for the Super Rugby Pacific grand final.
Social media will help promote the hashtags #CASvTOU #MONvBOR trend across the rugby-Universe. Add in the popular French translation #DemiesTOP14 [semi-finals] as well as host city Nice. They will all be widely shared, with supporters traveling across France to enjoy the summer vibe of the Côte d’Azur.
Bon, c'est bientôt le week-end ? 👏
— CANAL+ (@canalplus) June 16, 2022
Maybe celebrations should wait until after the final whistle though, as nobody wants a hangover when their side’s ambitions came crashing down. So between all four teams, it will be a big weekend for sure. It is just, who, how, and what they achieve this Friday and Saturday night that will determine who goes on to attend the Grande Finalé.
French Top 14 semi-finals are all set for the big weekend
Examining French Rugby, the conclusions can often be misinterpreted. Such as how form translates into knockout game ability?
Who is to say that over a 26-round season, where the leading side won 17 matches, can sustain any team to an undefeated successful run over the last matches of this competition? That is actually impossible to predict. Simply, it is because the Top14 had an interrupted conclusion, with the Heineken Champions Cup/Challenge Cup halting team’s momentum over the last month.
So the ultimate questions are, which side can quickly rebuild that week-to-week match fitness?
And might a week off have the opposite effect for Castres and Montpellier?
That analysis still won’t account for factors like ‘game breakers’. Those men who wish to stand tallest, rise above the situation, and play the game of their lives. So if those considerations are considered then you might identify four names: Antoine Dupont, Romain Ntamack, Matthieu Jalibert, and for Montpellier Hérault Handré Pollard and Guilhem Guirado.
Why two players from Montpellier? The balance of the side is important and where others have dominant pivots, dynamic outside backs or clever scrum-halves, the important balance of any pack/backline is critical. Crucial in the defensive-minded matches that are knockout games. No third place here, you cannot receive bronze. And if any team sport shows how fundamental a combined effort is, then rugby union (especially from the Top14) is traditionally won by the side that has balance over the field.
Montpellier will look to counter all of the flair from Bordeaux, the individual moments that fuse the spark for a running team. Not that the Begles do not hold power forwards; Louis Picamoles has not been as prominent in recent years yet, nobody would be able to overcome an oversight in any side’s match planning than the 1.92m flanker is still a weapon at 36.
No conclusion, although, finals knockout rugby counts in Big Occasions
Watch for a clear contrast in semi-final outcomes. One match could come down to as little as a drop kick. Or it might be won with ‘bonus point’ like precision. Money on the game is firming toward Bordeaux as they hold the head-to-head recent result 22-23 away. Yet if your last result is any motivation, the Montpellier side lost their final round-robin game of the regular season. So if they have harnessed that disappointment into anything, the second seeds will not be second anymore.
Big occasion or not, challengers to sides like Castres have been faced all year. Is June the right time of the season to second guess? A tough analysis of the sides has shown where a prolonged season has its unsatisfactory components.
French Top 14 semi-finals:
Castres v Toulouse – Friday, June 17
Montpellier v Bordeaux Begles – Saturday, June 18
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