Toulon-La Rochelle, with Europe in the back of your mind
Finalists of the two European Cups, Varois and Maritimes face off this Saturday in a…
Finalists of the two European Cups, Varois and Maritimes face off this Saturday in a gala poster relocated to the Stade Vélodrome. But the issues are many.
Fifteen days to regenerate, gain strength and rise – a little more – in power. Last weekend, RC Toulon punched their ticket for the Challenge Cup final by dominating Benetton Trevisowhen, a few hours later, Stade Rochelais did the same, but in the Champions Cup, unceremoniously crushing the English from Exeter. No time to savor too much, it was quickly necessary to switch to the Top 14 and the race for tickets for the final phase.
Hot, the Rochelais manager Ronan O’Gara did not pour into the blissful satisfaction after a third qualification in a row for the final of the great European Cup. “This isn’t an answer you’re going to like, but, right now, there’s no interest for me to talk about the finale“, he swept insisting:”I have to prepare a group for Toulon, we have to try to win the Shield while performing well in the Champions Cup.No time to relax.
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Same motivation on the side of Gregory Alldritt : “We are lucky to switch from a semi-final to a prime time match at the Vélodrome. We must not slow down even if we have the final in the back of our minds. The group is growing. Being qualified is not enough for us. We are very ambitious.” Inevitably, the Marseille enclosure will bring back good memories to the third line of the XV of France and his teammates, since they were crowned kings of Europe there last year against Leinster.
“It took us some time to adapt but for a few months the team has been playing well”
For Stade Rochelais, the deal is simple: a success against the RCT would secure its place in the first two, synonymous with direct qualification for the semi-finals and a welcome week of rest, sparing yourself the dam box. The dynamics of Ronan O’Gara’s troupe – private Saturday of Jonathan Danty, Yoan Tanga and Levani Botia – is impressive: nine wins in a row in all competitionsincluding six in the Top 14. After a few failures at Marcel-Deflandre (three losses), the caravel club managed to export itself with talent: 27 points gleaned, 6 victories, no one has done better in France .
Opposite, RC Toulon had a rocky season but they are clearly gaining momentum as they approach the final sprint. “It was a bit difficult at the start of the season because there were a lot of new players. It took us some time to adapt but, for a few months, the team has been playing well and we remain in contention in two competitions.admitted to AFP that Toulon opener Ihaia Westformerly of… La Rochelle.
The New Zealand fly-half salivates at the idea of reuniting with his former partners. “It’s going to be cool. It will be a slightly different match, especially in Marseille, because we did something special there last season with La Rochelle, winning the Champions Cup. I know that all Rochelais are eager to return to the Vélodrome, he advances. It will be good to see friends again but, on the pitch, it will be different. It will be an important meeting for us, to stay in the top six.
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Currently 5th but only one point ahead of LOU and Racing 92the Var club will, before its fifth Challenge Cup final (for four defeats so far), have to rub shoulders with two top names: La Rochelle, therefore, then Racing 92. Stade Rochelais hardly succeeds in Toulon, which is has lost four times in the last five meetings, including an 11-29 loss in February 2021 at Mayol.
This Saturday, other former Rochelais will surely want to shine against their former teammates. The Jérémy Sinzelle, Dany Priso and other Mathieu Tanguy have indeed recently left the Atlantic for the Mediterranean. They also delivered some keys to the Stade Rochelais: “When we did the video analysis of La Rochelle, Franck (Azéma, the co-manager) asked us if we wanted to add something so we shared a bit about our experience“says Ihaia West.
The RCT does not really have the right to make mistakes if it wants to return to the final stages of the championship for the first time since … 2018 and a play-off lost in Mayol against Lyon (19-19, 2 tries to 1) . An eternity for a club of this standing.