The Short Side: Top 14 Final, Key Players And Battles

The Short Side: Top 14 Final, Key Players And Battles

The short side returns to Planet Rugby as we study the main talking points ahead of this weekend’s Top 14 final between Toulouse and Clermont Auvergne.

Top 14 final– Toulouse v Clermont Auvergne

The French domestic campaign comes to an end on June 15, almost 10 months after it started, when the top-two from the regular season go head-to-head at the Stade de France. Both were comfortable winners in their last-four contests, with Toulouse beating La Rochelle 20-6 and Clermont overcoming Lyon 33-13, which duly set up a thrilling finale.

They have clearly been the best sides in the competition throughout, losing just 10 matches between, while the duo are also the most aesthetically pleasing to watch. It wasn’t long ago that Ugo Mola was teetering on the brink at Les Rouge et Noir, having guided them to a 12th place finish in 2016/17, but the head coach has revitalised the club since, playing the type of rugby they became synonymous for in the 1990s and 2000s.

There is a youthful exuberance about the squad, who go onto the field without fear, and they have produced some stunning rugby this year, but Mola’s charges will have to be wary of the dangerous Les Jaunards.

Franck Azema’s team are more experienced in these occasions and have a nice balance to the squad. Their pack is gargantuan and the backline is dangerous, particularly out wide, with Alivereti Raka and Damian Penaud in excellent form against Lyon. The teams were separated by 15 points in the table but this encounter is too close to call. It should be a thriller.

Toulouse’s player to watch – Jerome Kaino

The former All Black has enjoyed an excellent season since joining at the start of the 2018/19 season and is vital if they are to overcome Clermont on Saturday. Auvergne have a particularly potent back-row, especially when you consider the outstanding Peceli Yato often starts on the bench, and Kaino needs to be at his best in the final.

Following 81 caps for New Zealand, his experience could also be telling, especially in a side where other members of the spine are not used to playing in these occasions. Hooker Peato Mauvaka, scrum-half Antoine Dupont and fly-half/full-back Thomas Ramos are the new breed of French players who could be regulars in the national side over the coming years, but Kaino’s influence will help them this weekend.

Clermont’s player to watch – Damian Penaud

The wing, who started off his professional career as a centre, may have endured a torrid time against England in the Six Nations, but he has been otherwise exceptional this season. While his defence needs work, Penaud is devastating on attack and is remarkably difficult to contain for any side.

Quick, with exceptional footwork and balance, the 22-year-old has all the assets of a top class back three player, but he is also incredibly strong and can create something with little space. Will surely be first choice for France in the World Cup, whether out wide or in the midfield, and is someone Toulouse will have to look out for on Saturday.

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