Top 14 Preview: Paris or Bust and The End of The Romain Era

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Excuse me, I have to go... Somewhere a game of rugby is happening.
Excuse me, I have to go… Somewhere a game of rugby is happening.
CASTRES, FRANCE – The Top 14 can add another name to the list of players who are calling time on their season. Castres’ legend Romain Teulet announced this week that he will join the likes of Toulon’s Lord Sir Jonny of Wilkinson and Biarritz’s Dimitri Yachvilli in the great changing room at the end of the career.

The 5ft 5in fullback, fondly known as Robocop because of his pre-kick routine, has scored 3,096 points in his 13 years with the Tarn club – a world record in top-flight club rugby. During his career at the club, he has lifted the Top 14 title in 2013 and the European Shield in 2003. In the 2004/05 season, he nailed 35 consecutive place kicks – a record that stood until 2009, when it was finally broken by Brock James.

Castres' Romain Teulet will retire at the end of the season after 13 seasons with the Top 14 side
Castres’ Romain Teulet will retire at the end of the season after 13 seasons with the Top 14 side
His last home match in Castres’ colours is likely to be this weekend’s game against Top 14 leaders Montpellier. Even if the defending champions make the play-offs – which is far from certain as they currently occupy the sixth and final play-off place – it’s most likely they’ll be away from home in the quarter-finals.

Expect an emotional outing, then, as a packed house at Pierre Antoine cheer on their side to what they hope will be a play-off affirming win, but also bid the fondest of farewells to a player whose Thor thighs are almost as legendary as his kicking ability.

Teulet or no Teulet, this is a match the Top 14 champions must win if they are to keep their destiny in their hands. They have a three-point cushion over Stade Francais and Bordeaux, who are in seventh and eighth place respectively and meet this weekend. They are unbeaten at home in the French league this season. But the visitors are on a roll, having won their last four to race up the table and guarantee their place in the play-offs with two weeks of the season in hand.

It could be tense affair at Pierre Antoine, and it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that Castres’ home record could be broken at the last. Unlikely, though. They’ve already beaten every other Top 14 opponent here – except Clermont, who left with a draw.

Elsewhere, Paris is the place to be for rugby fans as not one but two crucial Top 14 clashes take place in the French capital.

Mouths should be watering at the prospect of born-again Racing Metro’s clash of the titans against Clermont in Colombes.

Racing's Jonny Sexton will be key to their hopes of beating Top 14 rivals Clermont
Racing’s Jonny Sexton will be key to their hopes of beating Top 14 rivals Clermont
The big-spending Paris side’s late-season charge has seen them barrel up the table into the play-off zone, while Clermont, who still have Heineken Cup concerns, will be determined to scrap all the way for one of the top-two slots and a week off before the play-off semi-finals.

Tension. Team and individual brilliance. Big hits. Plenty of tries. This match should have it all. And Racing, at home, with a baying crowd behind them, will most likely edge it. Even without Dimitri Szarzewski, whose season was ended by injury last week.

But, if mouths were watering at that game, there’s likely to be a biblical flood of saliva as Stade Francais and Bordeaux meet at Stade Jean Bouin. Both sides are just outside the play-off places and a bad result for either would pretty much end their season. Take all the tension, tension and individual brilliance, hits and tries of the other game in Paris and square it. Rugby doesn’t get any tougher than this.

You have to feel for Oyonnax. It’s easy to admire their never-say-die attitude and all-hell-let-loose style – but, coming into the last two matches of their first season in the Top 14, they find themselves in 13th place and the second relegation spot. Last season, 32 points would have seen them safe. This season, with two matches to go, 48 isn’t close to good enough.

Worse still, they have a beast of a run-in. This Saturday, they’re at home to Toulouse, and next week they’re away at Brive. What they need right now is belief. They have already beaten Castres, Toulon, Clermont and Racing Metro at Stade Charles Mathon. Beating one more play-off hopeful has to be possible. Doesn’t it?

The good news for the side from the plastics city is that Toulouse have been a long way from the dominant force away from Ernest Wallon that they once were. That, plus the fact that Louis Picamoles will definitely miss the trip, and Yannick Nyanga is a major doubt.

They also will hope that Bayonne will slip up either this week at Grenoble, or next week at home to Castres.

Perpignan coach Marc Delpoux realises how tough his struggling Top 14 side's run-in really is
Perpignan coach Marc Delpoux realises how tough his struggling Top 14 side’s run-in really is
Despite last week’s papering-over-the-cracks home win over Oyonnax, Perpignan could well be favourites for the drop. This Saturday – just when they needed home advantage – the Catalans entertain Toulon in soccer heartland Barcelona, of all places. Next weekend they’re at Clermont.

It’s on the impossible side of hard to see them winning either of their closing matches.

Biarritz are already down – and reports are surfacing that under-20 star Teddy Thomas’s eyes may have been turned by a lucrative offer from Racing Metro, in spite of club president Serge Blanco’s confidence that he could persuade the talented winger to stay.

Is Teddy Thomas leaving doomed Biarritz for Racing Metro?
Is Teddy Thomas leaving doomed Biarritz for Racing Metro?
They welcome Brive to Parc des Sports Aguilera this weekend. The visitors still have an outside chance of making the play-offs, but they need to combine big wins with an unlikely set of other results going their way. All they can do is pick up all the points they can. A big win over Biarritz would keep up their hopes alive. Anything less and this season will be effectively over.

Grenoble’s season has come off the rails since Christmas. Fortress Stade Lesdiguières has collapsed in recent weeks, and a near-cataclysmic end-of-season drop in form means Isere side aren’t exactly safe from relegation. This week’s match against Bayonne could go a long way to deciding not just their fate but that of their opponents.

It’s likely to be a very tense affair this weekend, but the home side should come away with a crucial four points.

That’s it for now. Feel free to comment below, please look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@:RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Jamie Wall, Jaime Loyd, DJ Eberle, Cody Kuxmann, Karen Ritter, Jake Frechette and Declan Yeats, respectively.

About James Harrington 196 Articles
James Harrington... Before injury brought his rugby career to a timely end, journalist James was equally useless whether he packed down in the second row or at number 8, positions in which he represented his school and university with indistinction. The prolific one now lives in France with his journalist wife and three children and watches as much Top 14, European and international action he thinks he can get away with; justifying his obsession by claiming: "But it's all work, Honey!"