RC Toulon clash with fellow big spenders Racing Metro for the French Top 14 title this Friday.
While money can’t buy you everything, it sure as hell can help you lure top talent to your club. And boy, do these two sides have some top-notch talent on their books.
With the likes of Matt Giteau and Bryan Habana turning out for Toulon and Dan Carter and Johan Goosen donning the blue and white hoops of Racing, we should be in for pulsating final.
RC Toulon v Racing Metro | Friday 24 June | Nou Camp, Barcelona | 20:35
To Win (80 Mins)
Toulon 11/20 | Draw 16/1 | Racing 16/10
While Toulon’s season could hardly be filed under the subpar draw, they’ve made it to a domestic final after all, it’s definitely had its ups and downs. They were knocked out of the European Rugby Champions Cup in the quarterfinals going down by three points to, in a touch of irony, Racing Metro.
They started their French Top 14 campaign rather slowly losing three of their first five fixtures. Their form improved as we entered the New Year with Bernard Laporte’s men winning four of their five domestic games played in January and February. The side was to endure a mid-season blip, however, as they lost three games between March and April. A resurgence in May and early June would secure them a semi-final date against Montpellier, though.
The semi-final itself was a rather one-sided affair with Toulon running out 27-18 victors, although, there may well have been a few nerves floating around the Toulon camp when Montpellier's Australian fullback, Jesse Mogg, managed to grab two second-half tries in the space of three minutes.
Key to Toulon’s semi-final victory was the return of Welsh magician Leigh Halfpenny. The veteran fullback marked his return from injury with a virtuoso place kicking display that saw him end the game with a personal points tally of 17.
It wasn’t only Halfpenny who impressed, however, with English loosie Steffon Armitage having an absolute field day at the breakdown. The former London Irish man turned over a ton of ball and ensured that Montpellier's turnover machine, Bismark du Plessis, always came off second best at the breakdown.
There was to be a spot of rain on what was a rather bright day in Toulon’s 2015/16 French Top 14 campaign with All Black legend Ma’a Nonu having to leave the field after his mid-air collision with Montpellier’s Antony Tuitavake. I highly doubt Nonu will be able to turn out for his side in the final with the IRB’s stern concussion procedures almost certain to come into play.
It has been a terrific season for Racing Metro. They had a brilliant run in the European Rugby Champions Cup, making it all the way to the final before going down to Saracens. They’ve also enjoyed a terrific domestic campaign which saw them win 18 of their 26 league fixtures.
With the round robin phase of the league done and dusted, Metro got their knockout phase of their campaign underway with a 21-16 victory over a competent but ageing Toulouse outfit. That result booked them a spot in last weekend’s semi-final against Clermont Auvergne where another Dan Carter-inspired performance saw them to a hard fought one point victory over their much-fancied opponents.
Racing had taken a massive lead within the first quarter of the game and looked home and hosed until a stellar fight back from Clermont.
Inspired by a late first half try from Samoan Fritz Lee, the men from Clermont edged their way back into the match. And when the fulltime hooter was blown, the scores were locked at 27-27.
Clermont took an early six point lead in extra time through the boots of Scott Speeding and Brock James but a late try from Argentine winger Juan Imhoff and a superb conversion from Dan Carter ensured Racing ran out 43-33 victors and advanced to this Friday’s final.
The Stats that matter
On to the good old stats now and there are certainly a few intriguing ones here. This will be the first time a Top 14 final will be played outside of France. The reason for this is due to the Euro 2016 round of 16 fixtures taking place at some of the bigger stadiums in France.
This will be Toulon’s fourth appearance in a final in the last five years while this is Racing’s first appearance in 26 years. Toulon last one the tournament back in 2014 where they defeated Castres Olympique by 18 points to ten in the final.
The sides have met three times this year with Racing winning the European Rugby Champions Cup encounter by three-points. Dan Carter’s side also won this season’s first domestic encounter between the two sides by five points. Toulon were to get their revenge, however, as they ran out 21-20 victors in the return leg played in late March.
Verdict: Racing Metro 16/10
I fancy the underdogs here. Racing have played some great rugby this season and we all know that Dan Carter is a man for the big occasions. I reckon the Kiwi legend will have kicked Racing to glory when the final whistle goes at the Nou Camp.