Our scribe takes a look at the 1st French Top 14 playoff being played between Racing and Toulouse.
A Dan Carter-less Racing Metro will be looking to book their place in the French Top 14 semi-finals when they host Toulouse this Saturday evening.
Racing Metro v Toulouse | Saturday 11 June | Stade Yves Du Manoir | 20:45
To Win (80 Mins)
Racing 3/10 | Draw 20/1 | Toulouse 26/10
It has been a dramatic few weeks for Racing Metro. Things were looking extremely rosy for the big spenders from the French capital a month ago. They had booked their spot in the European Rugby Champions Cup Final, they were looking good for an automatic spot in the French Top 14 semi-finals, and they had an in-form Dan Carter pulling the strings.
Fast forward a few weeks and things are looking a lot more gloomy than they were before. They were convincingly beaten by a magnificent Saracens side in the Champions Cup final. But that heartbreak was compounded by the loss of Carter who was forced to leave the field early on in the second half due to a recurrence of a calf strain. The former All Black pivot has been sidelined ever since and it looks unlikely that he will make a return to the playing field this season.
Luckily for Racing though, they have the mercurial talent of Johan Goosen to call upon. The former Free State Cheetahs man put in a virtuoso display against Montpellier last week, slotting a long-range penalty and dictating proceedings.
While Goosen has spent most of the European season in the centres, his natural habitat is the flyhalf channel. With Carter out, the Grey College old boy has a chance not only to impress his current employers but also the South African Super Rugby franchise bosses - who are always on the lookout for a quality pivot.
Goosen wasn’t the only player who put in a great shift last week. Former All Black and Auckland Blues flyer Joe Rockocko rolled back the years with some fancy footwork and a few deft offloads while Argentine winger Juan Imhoff opened the scoring for Racing with a great marvellous finish in the corner.
These three players are likely to play a huge role this weekend as Toulouse have a decent pack but their defensive system is rather easy to stretch.
The men from the south-west of France have endured a rather strange season. They tanked horribly in the in the European Rugby Champions Cup only winning a solitary Pool One game. They’ve fared a lot better on the domestic front though, and finished the regular French Top 14 season in fifth place; eight points clear of sixth-placed Castres.
Their squad is mainly made up of veterans who were at the peak of their powers about five years ago. They do have one or two exiting youngsters like Gael Fickou and Yacouba Camara. These two men will have key roles to fill this weekend. Yacouba will be tasked with keeping Chris Masoe and Co quite while Fickou will need to spark the backline into action as former English international Toby Flood sure as hell won’t.
Toulouse are likely to take a forward orientated approach to this one. They’ll look to keep things tight and milk penalties from set pieces. This tactic could backfire dramatically however, as Racing’s pack are no pushovers.
The Stats That Matter
Toulouse managed 16 victories on their way to their fifth place round robin finish while Racing racked up 18 wins and finished fourth. Toulouse had a much better points differential than that of their opponents, conceding 393 points while scoring 680. Racing Metro scored 614 points and conceded 522.
The two sides met twice during the round robin phase with Toulouse winning the first game 14-3 and Racing Metro winning the second 28-13.
Verdict: Racing Metro 3/10
It’s likely to be a tight-fought first half but I can see Racing running this ageing Toulouse squad ragged in the second. Not much value here but it’s a great banker for your weekend multiple.