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Rugby Union - Top 14 Final: Preview

Rugby's summer internationals are nearly upon us but before we bid farewell to the club game until September, France provides one final hurrah with the Top 14 final.

For the third season in a row, the top two from the regular season standings will contest the showpiece game with Castres and Montpellier ready to battle it out at the Stade de France on Friday.

Despite having finished first and second in the table, both teams were made underdogs for last week's semi-finals, pulling off impressive upsets to set up a repeat of the 2018 Top 14 final when Castres beat Montpellier 29-13.

That was Castres' fifth and most recent championship success and they are marginal 8/11 favourites to get the better of Montpellier once more.

Montpellier have never tasted Top 14 title glory but with an array of international stars to call upon and more recent experience than Castres in a final, they could well walk off with the Bouclier de Brennus.

What

Top 14 Final

Where

Stade de France, Paris

When19:45, Friday 24th June 2022
How to Watch

Premier Sports 1

Odds

Castres 8/11, Montpellier 1/1

Maiden success driving Montpellier on

Despite having reached the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup this season, it's been obvious from the outset that domestic success has been the number one goal of the Cistuses.

Having missed out on the playoffs last season when finishing tenth, it appeared head coach Philippe Saint-Andre, who took charge midway through the previous campaign, had a big job on his hands to make Montpellier competitive.

However, the former France coach has galvanised his collection of stars, fostering an excellent team spirit, which was on show at its fullest in last weekend's bruising semi-final win over Bordeaux.

Despite finishing one place below Montpellier in the regular season standings and battling through a quarter-final meeting with Racing 92, Bordeaux had been strongly fancied to advance to the final but were left bashing their heads against a blue and white wall.

Saint-Andre's side defended manfully and took their point-scoring chances when they came in a tactical battle, edging through to the club's third final 19-10.

Their previous trips to the final have ended in defeat but this version of Montpellier looks better equipped to make it third time lucky for the men from the south of France.

Significant investment in the playing staff means they have experience and quality in nearly every department. They also know what it takes to get the job done on the big stage having won the European Challenge Cup last term.

United squad

There's a strong core of France internationals throughout the squad with Guilhem Guirado and Mohamed Haouas leading a formidable front row, with Paul Willemse and Nico Janse van Rensburg packing down behind them.

Captain Fulgence Ouedraogo and England's Zach Mercer have been excellent in the back-row, while there's a good blend of youth and experience in the backs, highlighted by having Italy's exciting fly-half Paolo Garbisi being backed up by South African's Handre Pollard.

Unlike Racing, Toulouse and Bordeaux, Montpellier's collection of big names appear to be pulling in the same direction and any fears over their form after losing three of their final four regular season matches has been dispelled by their beating of Bordeaux.

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Big group effort needed from Castres

Perhaps the biggest worry for Montpellier is their recent record against Castres, who have won four of the last five encounters, including their latest engagement in March.

That 25-9 triumph for Castres was part of a strong end to the season for Montpellier's Occitania neighbours as they won six of their final seven regular season matches to finish top of the pile.

They then overcame Toulouse in the semi-finals, running the already drained defending champions ragged on a hot night in Nice to advance to a fourth final in the last nine years.

Much like his opposite number at Montpellier, Castres' first-year head coach Pierre-Henry Broncan has brought the squad together and developed an effective tactical approach based on a ridged defence.

They haven't allowed more than 20 points in their last six Top 14 games, a run which includes taming Toulouse and their majestic scrum-half Antoine Dupont twice.

Castres don't boast too many star names with Broncan instead building a system which maximises the talent he has at his disposal.

Urdapilleta's boot a bonus for Castres

They boast a solid pack that should stand up well to Montpellier's forwards, while they look to have the edge in the kicking game with Argentina's Benjamín Urdapilleta having proved extremely reliable this season.

He ranks fifth in both points scored and goals kicked this season in the Top 14 and if the forecast wet weather does arrive in Paris, Urdapilleta's boot may make all the difference.

Given the 36-year-old's form from the tee and how much both teams relied on their kicking games to keep the scoreboard ticking over last week, the 4/11 on there to be more tries than penalties could be handy.

With scoring chances likely to be at a premium, expect a tight and tense end to the Top 14 season with a slight preference for Montpellier at odds-against to edge out Castres by the narrowest of margins.

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