Top 14 - Round 26 Preview
Play-off picture almost complete
April 21, 2010
Jonny Wilkinson's 23 points sent his Toulon side to the top of the table © Getty Images
Biarritz 19 - 26 Clermont Auvergne Brive 23 - 26 Toulon Montauban 22 - 8 Bayonne Montpellier 34 - 27 Bourgoin-Jallieu Perpignan 44 - 0 Albi Stade Français 41 - 17 Racing Metro Toulouse 25 - 17 Castres
With the cast for this season's Top 14 play-offs already confirmed, the final round of the regular season is all about the fight for a home semi-final and a precious bye weekend.
The battle at the other end of the table is also set to reach a dramatic conclusion with Montauban hanging onto the hope that they can avoid dropping into ProD2 along with already-relegated Albi. The Tarn et Garonne club are already facing relegation over financial irregularities pending an appeal and are fighting for survival in the league also, having slipped into the drop zone last weekend.
Toulon currently lead the chase for the post-season after fly-half Jonny Wilkinson booted them to victory over Perpignan last time out and Phillippe Saint-Andre's side will look to cement a top two place and with it a home semi-final when they tackle Brive at Stade Amedee-Domenech. However, they are unlikely to get things all their own way with Brive looking to leap-frog Biarritz into seventh place in the table that would see them claim a spot in next season's Heineken Cup should a French side win the title this season.
Perpignan sit just one point behind their title rivals but are well-placed to turn the screw with a home tie against Albi at Stade Aime Giral to look forward to. Victory would see the Catalans guaranteed a bye and then a home tie in the final four as they continue their quest to notch back-to-back Top 14 titles.
Thanks to their recent hard-fought victory over Castres, Clermont Auvergne remain in the hunt for a home semi-final just one point behind Perpignan but they require win and for one of their rivals to slip up if they are to make a late surge. Les Jaunards travel to Biarritz on Saturday with the Basque side looking to return to winning ways ahead of their Heineken Cup semi-final showdown with Munster next month. A win for Biarritz would also see them hold off both Brive and Stade Francais in the battle for the European lifeline provided by seventh place.
Fourth-placed Castres are also in the mix and if they are to earn themselves a rest week they are going to have to upset Toulouse at Stade Ernst Wallon and hope other results go their way. Toulouse, who are also bound for the Heineken Cup semi-finals with a mouth-watering clash with Leinster on the horizon, can still force their way into the top two but home advantage in the first round of the play-offs is a more likely target.
Racing Metro booked their place in the post-season with victory over Biarritz last Saturday but cannot improve on their sixth position so their clash with Stade Francais at Stade Jean Bouin will merely act as a warm-up to their opening play-off clash. Stade Francais' forgettable season is all but done and dusted although a bonus point win and a loss for Brive would see them pip Biarritz to seventh place thanks to their head-to-head record this season.
Montauban's hopes of survival, albeit only mathematically, rest on their clash with fellow strugglers Bayonne where only a victory will do due to the latter's comprehensive victory when the two sides met back in November. Defeat for Bayonne would see them drop into the relegation zone but they could be handed a reprieve if the financial watchdogs reject Montauban's bid for clemency.
Bourgoin's stunning triumph over Toulouse at a sold-out Stade Gerland in Lyon preserved their top flight status with their final match Montpellier at Stade Yves-du-Manoir set to be a celebration of that fact.