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PREVIEW: Top 14 semifinals rewinding the clock 

SPOTLIGHT: Top 14 semifinalists Toulouse and La Rochelle will write another chapter in their storied rivalry this weekend.

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The sides will square off in Bourdaux at the Matmut Atlantic Stadium this Friday in what will be a mouthwatering clash between two great rivals in recent years.

The powerhouse teams have faced each other in the Top 14 in two finals and once in a Champions Cup knockout since 2019.

Toulouse holds the bragging rights having won all three clashes and topped this season’s Top 14 table.

La Rochelle showed they are still the real deal by beating Toulon in last week’s play-off with only one loss in their last six matches this campaign.

Sharing the spoils

In the last meeting between these two sides, there was nothing to choose as it ended in a 31-all draw – a week before Toulouse clinched a sixth Champions Cup title.

“We’re starting to get to know each other well,” Toulouse loose forward Francois Cros told AFP.

“Every time you have to lift the cursor in terms of intensity and strategy to get around them, who have been like a cannon ball towards the end of the season.

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“They’re getting stronger, winning the play-off at Stade Mayol is not nothing,” the France flank added.

Last season’s final win lives long in the memory because of Romain Ntamack’s superb last-gasp match-winning try.

Ntamack’s 60m solo effort denied La Rochelle a maiden Bouclier de Brennus title as well as a continental and domestic double having lifted a second Champions Cup weeks earlier.

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“Toulouse are the in-form team in the Top 14, their progress in the Champions Cup has given them confidence,” La Rochelle captain Gregory Alldritt said.

“The revenge is more towards ourselves because it’s us who failed to win.

“To be champions we have to get through Toulouse,” he added.

The deadly duo to pull strings

Romain Ntamack will be partnered by French superstar Antoine Dupont this weekend, at a sold-out 42,000-capacity Matmut Atlantique Stadium.

Dupont will seek to finish the club campaign on a high by booking a spot in next weekend’s Final.

The final will take place in Marseille as opposed to the Stade de France which is being prepared for the Paris Olympics.

Dupont also had a couple of stints with the France Sevens outfit this season having won two series tournaments and a Rookie Player of the Year award and he will eye a gold medal finish in the games’ shorter form later this year.

“The minimum for us to keep the standards from Toulon against the best player in the world in their team,” La Rochelle’s Director of Rugby O’Gara said.

“In certain games he’s unplayable.

“We’ve never seen a player like him, especially in recent years.” the former Ireland and British and Irish Lions flyhalf added.

The other semifinal will see 14-time champions Stade Francais take on Bordeaux which will take place 10 kilometres north of their Stade Chaban-Delmas home.

The 14-time champions are in the final four – nine years on from their last appearance having led the table standings for half of the regular season.

“The objective was the top six,” their Director of Rugby Laurent Labit told AFP.

“We’re a historic club, a great club, who should be playing knockout games at the top of the table.

“We want to be able to play for titles every year,” the former France attack coach added.

Fixtures

Toulouse v La Rochelle

Date: Friday, June 21
Venue: Matmut Atlantic Stadium, France
Kick-off: 20.15 (18.15 GMT)
Referee: Tual Trainini (France)
Assistant referees: Adrien Marbot (France), Benoit Rousselet (France)
TMO: Pierre Bru (France)

Stade Francais v Bordeaux-Begles

Date: Saturday, June 22
Venue: Matmut Atlantic Stadium, France
Kick-off: 21.05 (19.05 GMT)
Referee: Pierre Brousset (France)
Assistant referees: Vincent Blasco Baque (France), Kevin Bralley (France)
TMO: Flavien Hourquet (France)

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