End of the suspenseful Top 14: La Rochelle or Racing 92 down the drain ? And if the great adventure of Perpignan settled the matter…

End of the suspenseful Top 14: La Rochelle or Racing 92 down the drain ? And if the great adventure of Perpignan settled the matter...

Les Catalans de l’Usap peuvent toujours rêver des phases finales s’ils s’imposent samedi à Pau. MAXPPP – Nicolas Parent

La course aux phases finales va faire rage, samedi, lors de la 26e et dernière journée de saison régulière. La surprise pourrait venir de l’Usap, en embuscade pour chiper la 6e place qualificative.

Both qualified for the play-offs at the moment, La Rochelle (5th, 62 points) and Racing 92 (6th, 61 pts) face each other on Saturday in an uncertain final shock of the Top 14, especially for the loser.

Close by Perpignan (7th, 58 pts) and Castres (8th, 58 pts), respectively traveling to Pau and Bayonne, who could, depending on the results, steal one of the two play-off places from them , Maritimes and Ile-de-France residents play their season on this duel.

Suspended series for Racing

Since its return to the Top 14 in 2009, Racing has never missed the final stages. A non-qualification on Saturday would be seen as a snub for the Englishman Stuart Lancaster, who took charge of Ciel et Blanc last summer.

"The context means that we must go there with a winning mindset: we cannot afford to count on on the results of our direct competitors", admits the Englishman.

"With the rest of the staff, we will keep informed of what is happening elsewhere and we will try to pass the information on to the leaders on the ground, but if the ;rsquo;we worry too much about others, we risk forgetting to concentrate on ourselves and that’s how we lose", he warns.

The Rochelais see the specter of the white season

Sharply eliminated by Leinster (40-13) from the Champions Cup in which they were double title holders, Ronan O’Gara's men only have the Top 14 left to brighten up their spring and confirm their status as safe bet (five qualifications in his last six years).

They intend to play their luck to the fullest in the race for the Top 6 with the return of several executives. This was seen in Toulouse last weekend (31-31), where they left with "a mixed feeling" according to their captain Grégory Alldritt… And still not qualified.

An early elimination, especially in their lair of Deflandre where they have only conceded one defeat in the Top 14, would cause chaos at the end of a complex season. manage on a physical and mental level. "We don’not even mention the possibility that everything ends this weekend, cuts left pillar Reda Wardi. I don't want to believe it".

Real playoff match ?

On this point, both camps know the issues and seem to agree on the qualifier. "For us, it’s a real 8th final, we have our destiny in our hands and we will have to give the best of ourselves", insists Racing opener Antoine Gibert.

"It’is our round of 16", echoed Jonathan Danty, the center of Rochelais never as motivated as in the run-up to these cleaver matches.

Deflandre is indeed not the ideal place to obtain a qualification:“It makes things more difficult but that's because we made things complicated for ourselves too, by losing quite a few points along the way”, underlines Racingmen second row Cameron Woki, who knows that a bonus could possibly be enough to stay within the qualification target.

It's going to be tough

What the Parisians are wary of above all is the power of the La Rochelle forwards: “It's a big fight that awaits us, with a team dense", says Woki.

"Their pack is solid, with Uini (Atonio), Will (Skelton) and Greg (Alldritt). They know how to use it very well and that's why they dominated Europe for two years", he recalls.

And they have "very good strikers", adds fly-half Antoine Gibert, despite the absence of Fijian Levani Botia (broken forearm). "We found our team again against Toulouse, with forward movement and our big ball carriers. It's our trademark so it's a good omen", Wardi confirms.

The fears of La Rochelle are, according to Danty, about the "rather strong back triangle" of the visitors, supported by the Fijian Josua Tuisova who returned at the right time. The only downside in the Parisian quest: the absence of scrum-half Nolann Le Garrec (shoulder).

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