Top 14: Home no Advantage at “Les Barrages”

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Christophe Roche looks back at a weekend of rugby action where the play-offs (les barrages) got under way an everything turned topsy-turvy

Before the games, all rugby pundits talk about chances of one team winning over another one; to do so, they look at the stats and stress the importance of home advantage, especially if the concerned stadiums are respectively Ernest Wallon for Toulouse and Stade Michelin for Clermont- Auvergne.

However, we all know too well that sport is not about stats and odds …in short, the beauty about sport is that anything can happen!

The odds were certainly against Racing Métro; last weekend, Racing lost comprehensively against Montpellier and while securing the play-offs – i.e. essentially the quarter final – losing that game meant that they had to meet Toulouse – aristocrats of the oval-ball game in France! Some could have said “Mission Impossible”. Indeed, Toulouse have reached the semi-final for the last 20 years. To put it in another way, Toulouse have the extraordinary record of not having lost a barrage (i.e. a quarter-final) for 20 years!

This is probably why the Racing players were so delighted at the final whistle after winning 21-16 (see above). Dublin’s own Johnny Sexton was the hero of the day. He displayed excellent efficiency with his kicks, scoring no less than 7 penalties, and simply scoring all the points for his team. It took Johnny Sexton a while to settle down in his new team. He often had to face criticisms that were very harsh but Johnny kept working and training. There is no doubt that he came good at the right time over the weekend and now he and his team-mates can continue to dreaming of the Top 14 title.

Next step for Racing: a semi-final against Toulon! Did you say “Mission Impossible”? Watch this space…

The other game of the weekend also went against the odds. Castres finished 6th overall and just about made the play-offs. By finishing with the last qualifying place, they had made their mission somewhat harder as they had to go to “La Forteresse” – i.e. going to the Stade Michelin were Clermont-Auvergne have won their last 77 games. Clermont’s last defeat at their home ground was back in 2009! Well, this record is well and truly in the past as Castres Olympique came away victorious with a scoreline of 22-16, stopping the seemingly invincible Clermont at home. Castres have now earned their place in the semi-final in sensational style; this will be against Montpellier and they can still dream of holding onto their title for another year.

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