PREVIEW: Depleted Racing 92 still the 'golden boys'
SPOTLIGHT: Stade Francais captain Paul Alo-Emile warned his side to be wary of a depleted Racing 92 ahead of Saturday’s Parisian derby at the La Defense Arena.
Third-placed Racing have a lengthy absentee list including the injured Simon Zebo and Camille Chat as well as the suspended Finn Russell.
They were knocked out of the European Champions Cup last weekend but have claimed impressive league victories this season at Clermont, Brive and Lyon with a second-string side.
“Racing are kind of the golden boys of Top 14. If you do well against Racing, you can do well in the competition as well,” Samoa prop Alo-Emile told AFP.
“I don’t know how they do it but they can pull a bunny out of the hat. They don’t have their top team out but they win. They just have really good depth. You can never underestimate them,” he added.
The tighthead, who plays alongside 21-year-old brother Moses in the French capital, was named skipper at Stade Jean-Bouin this season.
He said he took inspiration from the club’s former captain Sergio Parisse, who left for Toulon in 2019.
“It’s really humbling and it was a lot more special because it came from the players and so for me it was a huge honour. At the beginning I felt I was out of my depth,” he said.
“He left some big shoes to fill. I’m getting used to it,” he added.
On Wednesday, New Zealand Rugby announced two Pacific Islands franchises are set to feature in Super Rugby from next season.
The teams – Fiji Drua and Moana Pasifika – must still have their finances approved before they can participate.
“I think it’s huge. It’s one of the best things that can be done for the Pacific nations,” Alo-Emile said.
“If you see what it’s like in Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, rugby’s everything for them. You see all these little boys and girls who aspire to be rugby players.
“You see a lot of Pacific players around the world. It’s really cool to have their own team,” he added.
‘Huge’ for Fickou
In the Parisian suburb this weekend, France centre Gael Fickou is set to line-up alongside Alo-Emile before leaving for Racing on a four-year deal next season.
Alo-Emile said a victory over Fickou’s future employers would mean a lot for the midfielder and would keep ninth-placed Stade Francais in touch of the play-off places.
“Him leaving is sad, for both him and us. He wants to do something special in a Stade Francais jersey before he leaves. This week is a huge game for him,” Alo-Emile said.
“The game is very important for our play-off hopes. They’re a team that we need points against,” he added.
Elsewhere, Toulouse will rest Les Bleus trio Antoine Dupont, Cyrill Baille and Julien Marchand for the trip to Castres, one of five derbies scheduled this weekend.
The Top 14 holders’ opposition in next month’s Champions Cup semifinals Bordeaux-Begles were due to head to winless Agen.
However, that game was called off on Wednesday due to a number of positive Covid-19 cases inside the Bordeaux set-up.
Montpellier against Toulon has also been postponed after positive tests at Toulon.
Ronan O’Gara’s La Rochelle, who meet Leinster in the last four of the continental competition on May 2, welcome Lyon.
Fixtures (times GMT):
Pau v Bayonne (18.45)
Castres v Toulouse (12.45)
La Rochelle v Lyon, Clermont v Brive (all 15.45)
Racing 92 v Stade Francais (19.05)
Postponed: Montpellier v Toulon, Agen v Bordeaux-Begles