Montpellier take on Stade Francais in crucial Top14 clash
Paris (AFP) –
Big spenders Montpellier and Stade Francais go head-to-head in this weekend's penultimate round of Top14 action seeking a crucial win to boost their play-off hopes.
Mohed Altrad's Montpellier, with 61 points, are currently one place off the top six that qualify for the end-of-season showdown.
Hans-Peter Wild's Stade Francais are one point adrift of Montpellier in eighth position.
Sixth-placed Racing 92, on 64 points, travel to bottom team Perpignan, and will be confident of playing for a bonus-point victory over a team that has won just two matches this season and will be relegated to the Pro D2 next year.
With Montpellier facing a tough away match at newly-crowned European Challenge Cup winners Clermont, and Stade Francais at home against struggling Pau in the final round of matches, this weekend's clash takes on an added importance.
"When I see this Montpellier team play, I say to myself that it's not the best moment of the season to be lining up against them," Stade Francais hooker Laurent Sempere told rugbyrama.fr.
"They are in form. They had a dip, but they've rebounded very well. I feel there's been some changes and they've put together some very good displays. It's going to be a huge clash."
Montpellier are indeed in form, with six victories from the last seven games -- their defeat in that run was by one point away at Racing.
A victory Sunday combined with a loss by Racing or Castres would almost certainly see them into the top six.
"The only thing that interests me is the match against Stade Francais," said Montpellier's Kiwi coach Vern Cotter, who was this week named as the club's director of rugby in a coaching reshuffle for next season.
"We know what's at stake in this game and all our energy must be focused on this match.
"The rest is only hypothesis. We'll put that to one side, it's the best thing to do."
Montpellier flanker Yacouba Camara said Sunday's match was "a final".
"We have two games left to get into the play-offs, even though we don't have fate completely in our own hands," said Camara, named this week in France's preliminary World Cup squad.
"I'd qualify it a failure should we not go through. With the team we have, we should be in that top six.
"The squad has found a second wind and it's up to us to keep it."
Leaders Toulouse and second placed Clermont, with away games against Bordeaux-Begles and Toulon respectively, have both qualified for the semi-finals.
Lyon, in third on 70 points, host fourth-placed La Rochelle (66), whom Clermont beat for European glory, in another important match.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Agen v Castres, Perpignan v Racing 92, Pau v Grenoble (1300), Lyon v La Rochelle (1900)
Montpellier v Stade Francais (1030), Bordeaux-Begles v Toulouse (1450), Toulon v Clermont (1900)
? 2019 AFP