Top 14: in the semi-final, Toulouse finds La Rochelle, its favorite victim

Top 14: in the semi-final, Toulouse finds La Rochelle, its favorite victim

It’s the Stadico, the new clasico of rugby. For five years, Stade Toulouse and Stade Rochelais have gotten into the habit of crossing paths for the decisive end-of-season matches, in the Top 14 or the Champions Cup. This Friday (8:15 p.m.), it is in the semi-final of the French Championship that Toulouse and La Rochelle will scrap. On neutral ground, halfway between the two strongholds of French rugby, at Matmut Atlantique in Bordeaux.

A clash between two behemoths led by Gers friends Antoine Dupont on the Toulouse side and Grégory Alldritt on the La Rochelle side, captains of their respective clubs and of the French XV in turn, during the World Cup then the Six Nations Tournament. In this opposition in a packed stadium, the Toulouse people start favorites, crowned with their European title stolen from Rochelais last month.

Toulouse favorite, La Rochelle regaining form

“We have the label of favorite, obviously, with 5 titles in 5 years (Top 14 2019, 2021 and 2023, and Champions Cup 2021 and 2024), we cannot deny it. But we are not lowering our level of vigilance, warns Ugo Mola, the Toulouse manager. This will be our 6th final phase match against La Rochelle, we have won 5, but that does not guarantee winning the 6th. »

In the final stages, however, Stade Rochelais does not generally resist the Toulouse ogre. A defeat in the semi-final of the Top 14 in 2019, already in Bordeaux, then two other defeats in the finals of the French and European Championships in 2021, and a last, cruel, last year at the Stade de France, when Romain Ntamack offered a 22nd Brennus shield to Toulouse in the last minute (29-26).

La Rochelle, in renewed form at the end of the season, is it still having a complex in the face of its black and red beast? “Until 2022, we had a mental problem against them,” recognizes Ronan O’Gara, the Irish manager of the Maritimes. But since then, no. We had two wins and one draw, even if there was this defeat in the final last year. The goal is to do better. We are in a situation of doing what no Rochelais has ever done. » That is to say, finally winning a Brennus shield. We will first have to overthrow the Toulouse mountain.

No anti-Dupont plan

For this, the Rochelais will count on their formidable pack, with their colossi Uini Atonio or Will Skelton. And also on a more airy game, seen during their last matches, with opener Antoine Hastoy at the helm. Admiring Antoine Dupont, Ronan O’Gara however considers it “useless” to have a specific plan against the best player in the world. He is counting on his scrum half Tawera Kerr-Barlow to deliver a good duel with Dupont.

On the Toulouse side, apart from their beam Emmanuel Meafou, injured, and Anthony Jelonch, still convalescing after his knee operation, the squad is complete and fresh, after two weeks without a match. The Rouge et Noir, first in the regular season, qualified directly for this semi-final when La Rochelle had to snatch their place in a play-off in Toulon last weekend. An extra freshness for Toulouse which can make the difference. If Antoine Dupont’s partners, above the fray this season, need it.

The composition of the teams

Toulouse. Ramos – Mallia, Chocobares, Ahki, Kinghorn – (o) R. Ntamack, (m) Dupont (cap.) – Willis, Roumat, Cros – Flament, Arnold – Aldegheri, Mauvaka, Baille.

Substitutes: Marchand, Neti, Brennan, Faasalele, Graou, Lebel, Costes, Ainu’u.

La Rochelle. Dulin – Nowell, Seuteni, Favre, Leyds – (or) Hastoy, (m) Kerr-Barlow – Jegou, Alldritt (cap.), Cancoriet – Skelton, Picquette – Atonio, Latu, Wardi.

Replacements: Lespiaucq, Sclavi, Haddad, Tanga, Berjon, West, Danty, Colombe.

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