Friday, 24 June 2016
If history is any guide at all, then the destiny of Friday’s French Top 14 final between Racing 92 and Toulon could be in the hands of Dan Carter and Leigh Halfpenny.
Or their boots, to be more precise.
The Nou Camp stadium, with its capacity of 99,000, is used to the free-flowing football of Barcelona superstars Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez.
But when rugby comes to town on Friday, a low-risk game looks on the cards.
In the last 10 Top 14 finals, only 19 tries have been scored and more than 71 percent of the points have come from the boot — 239 out of 334.
The last five finals have been even more tense with only four tries scored while the 2012 final between Toulouse and Toulon and last year’s decider featuring Clermont and Stade Francais were decided by the boot.
An average of just nine points has separated the winner and vanquished in finals since 2006 and just six since 2011.
There was also little between Toulon and Racing in the regular season.
Racing won the first match in the Top 14 by 27-22 as well as their European Cup quarter-final duel, 19-16.
Toulon then grabbed the honours back in the Top 14 return fixture winning 21-20.
– ‘Charm of rugby’ –
It is statistics like these that have many pundits looking to All Blacks’ World Cup winner Carter and Toulon’s Welsh full-back Halfpenny, who has returned after a nine-month injury absence, as the key men thanks to their deadly accuracy with the boot.
“In finals there are tries and sometimes there are not,” said Toulon coach Bernard Laporte, who will oversee his last match at the club on Friday.
“That’s the charm of rugby, you never know what will happen in advance. Will it be close? I think we are two teams who like to play — just look at the semi-finals.
“I don’t see why Friday should be any different. It is certain that at the start we will take a look at each other, nobody wants to be found out.”
Laporte’s team were the top try scorers in the championship during the regular season with 89 and boast backs of speed and power in the shape of Johan Goosen, Brice Dulin and Juan Imhoff.
Physical freshness will also be key — both on the pitch and off the bench.
Racing will be playing for a 19th successive weekend and last Friday needed extra-time to defeat Clermont 34-33 in a marathon semi-final.
Toulon, who have had a day less to prepare after their 27-18 win over Montpellier put them into a fourth Top 14 final in five years, have been hit by injuries.
They will be without marquee names such as Ma’a Nonu, Drew Mitchell, Sebastien Tillous-Borde, Juanne Smith and Duane Vermeulen.
But they can still call on the raw, destructive power of French centre Mathieu Bastareaud and flying Fijian winger Josua Tuisova.
Their Georgian forward power of Mamuka Gorgodze, Konstantin Mikautadze and Levan Chilachava can smash through the toughest of defensive walls.
Racing too have plenty of power in the pack thanks to All Blacks No8 Chris Masoe, prop Ben Tameifuna and second row Bernard Le Roux.
Source by: AFP