A new dimension for a famous rivalry
June 4, 2011
Montpellier have marched into the unknown in recent weeks - can they finish the job? © Getty Images
Toulouse and Montpellier will collide in the Top 14 final at the Stade de France on Saturday, with Guy Noves in search of a first title since 2008.
The two sides are at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of past deeds, with the first of Toulouse's 17 domestic titles preceding Montpellier's formation by 74 years, but under Fabien Galthie and Eric Bechu the underdogs have developed a knack for bloodying the noses of their more illustrious rivals.
While the rugby rivalry between the two sides is a relatively new phenomenon, the two cities represented in Paris on Saturday have a rich history of bickering and posturing over the seat of capital to the ancient province of Languedoc, while their football and handball clubs are also well-known to one another.
Toulouse secured their place in the final by humbling reigning champions Clermont Auvergne 29-6 last weekend, with Montpellier hot on their heels thanks to a thrilling 26-25 victory over megabucks Racing Metro.
It's got all the makings of a classic underdog tale, but will Goliath prove to be just too big for David to handle?
Toulouse - Player to Watch: David Skrela may be 32 now but he remains a fine fly-half and, in what will be his last game for Toulouse before his switch to Clermont, he will be intent on getting the better of France's first-choice No.10, Francois Trinh-Duc.
Toulouse - Team News: Toulouse boss Guy Noves has, unsurprisingly, stuck with the same starting line-up which saw off Clermont last weekend, meaning Rupeni Caucaunibuca, a late injury replacement for Vincent Clerc, retains his place on the left wing. Clerc could yet feature amongst the replacements but if he is again sidelined with his rib problem, Vilimoni Delasau will be afforded a seat on the bench.
Montpellier - Player to Watch: Winger Martin Bustos Moyana has proven himself one of the most reliable kickers in Top 14 and it is essential that he retains the same levels of composure and accuracy he displayed in the win over Racing if Montpellier are to have any chance of upsetting the odds this weekend.
Montpellier - Team News: Montpellier are still sweating on the availability of France flanker Fulgence Ouedraogo, who broke a bone in his hand in the win over Racing. A final decision will be made on his inclusion closer to kick-off.
Key Battle: It simply has to be the breakdown, with Toulouse's formidable back-row trio of Jean Bouilhou, Thierry Dusautoir and Louis Picamoles set to lock horns with Montpellier's equally imposing triumverate of Fulgence Ouedraogo (fitness permitting), Mamuka Gorgodze and Masi Matadigo. Brace yourself for some heavy hits and collosal collisions. The victors of this particular match-up will take home the title.
Trivia: Galthie has been to the Top 14 final as a coach once before, when his Stade Francais side were beaten 37-34 by Biarritz in 2005. The same year, they lost the Heineken Cup final to Toulouse, with both games going to extra time.
Stats: Toulouse have won their 17 titles from 25 appearances in the final, their most recent in 2008.
"We'll prepare for this match as we would prepare for any final. And in preparing for a final you try not to say anything stupid. The guys will do the battling on the pitch so I don't see the point of doing either before or after." - Toulouse boss Guy Noves.
"There is the human element involving meeting wonderful people inside the club and the ups and downs which we have experienced which makes it even more emotional. It is more significant what I am experiencing with Montpellier than with the France side." - Montpellier fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc
Prediction: Montpellier have been the surprise package in this season's play-offs but they are here on merit and should not be under-estimated at any cost. However, Toulouse have looked a cut above most of their rivals for most of the season and they should have just too much power, pace and experience for a side making their first appearance in the Top 14 final.
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