No more duplicates, no European Cup, but a threatening Covid-19: the Boxing Day of the Top 14 was to be a full day with all of its living forces, closed by the shock of the frustrated of Europe between Toulon and Clermont. It was without counting on the postponement of Castres-Bayonne.
This extraordinary year had to end with an (almost) ordinary day, and this is what makes it remarkable: for only the second time of the season, after the 2nd day in mid-September, the 14 top clubs were to play with all of their players available, far from the endless international autumn window before the duplicates resume their right at the time of the next Tournament in early February. But the postponement of Castres-Bayonne, formalized on Saturday, has changed the situation.
The French rugby calendar remains inextricable, discussions continue behind the scenes to evolve and the stadiums still endure a sad closed door. But on Sunday, the championship will take advantage, as in every holiday period of the winter football break, to take center stage with six matches scheduled for the same day.
The big names are expected to put on a show, in the wake of their very good overall performance (9 successes for 3 losses) in the European Cup. Especially in La Rochelle, where the leader welcomes Montpellier, in bad shape (12th) but which remains on a victory in Clermont. Or Toulouse (2nd) which receives Bordeaux-Bègles (8th) in a poster between the last champion and the frustrated leader of the last regular season, interrupted by the pandemic.
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Two big posters
The context takes on all the trap for the Toulouse, winners by forfeit (28-0) of their match against Exeter, affected by the Covid-19, and who therefore could not follow after their success in Ulster (29-22) . After a Christmas celebrated in moderation, the Toulouse residents have only a light training program this Saturday. Rhythm cut, preparation truncated while in front, the UBB made short work of the Dragons (47-8) and should present its new nugget, the Argentine winger Bautista Delguy, freshly landed in Gironde.
The other clash between contenders for the final phase (9:00 p.m.) will take place in Mayol, where Clermont remains on three beatings suffered against Toulon: 41-19 in 2019-2020, 32-11 in 2018-2019 and a sinister 49-0 in 2017-2018. This season, the ASM, which has never lost by more than nine points, has the means to do much better, on condition of better controlling its end of the match: it has completely disintegrated against Munster ( setback 31-39) and took a hell of a blow to the head in the race for the European quarter-finals.
Toulon also scuttled in its quest for qualification, but in another way: the RCT refused to play for the Scarlets, who had a positive player for Covid-19, and therefore lost on the green carpet. Rested and brought up against the organizer of the competition, they have the opportunity to let off steam. Toulon (4th) or Clermont (6th), which will play in colors paying homage to the nursing staff, the loser risks leaving the barrage car because the Stade Français (5th) and Lyon (7th), immediate competitors with the same number of points, go to poorly classified, Pau (11th) and Brive (10th). This is not a guarantee, however, because Pau, who remains on 6 consecutive losses, is on a mission for the first of his new trio of coaches. And Brive has just confirmed, by winning at the finish Tuesday in Castres (25-24), that the adjective tough suited him like a glove.
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For Agen, a red lantern always looking for a first success after 11 matches, and of which two players were laid off for having fought, the trip to Racing ticks all the boxes for a new ordeal, as the club des Hauts-de-Seine has been solid in recent weeks (4 straight wins). The players of Laurent Travers, 3rd to 3 units of the Rochelais, are in ambush to seize the chair of leader.
But the seven of seven in the program will not take place, since the meeting between Castre and Bayonne (4 p.m.) has been postponed. In question, several positive tests within the workforce of Rowing. Cases potentially to be linked to the reception of Leicester in the European Cup last Saturday (20-28) when the British had already known several positive cases for the coronavirus before the meeting. For Castres, already in bad shape (13th), it is a second postponement of the season after the match against Montpellier.