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Rugby Union - Top 14 Semi Finals: Preview

Just four teams remain as the semi-finals of the Top 14 playoffs take place on Friday and Saturday in Nice’s Allianz Riviera.

With some beautiful 30-degree weather in the south of France, some high-speed and bruising rugby is on the cards as these sides hope to book their place in the final on 24th June at the Stade de France.

Castres underdogs in Nice

What: Castres v Toulouse

Where: Allianz Riviera, Nice

When: 20:05, Friday 17th June 2022

How to watch: Premier Sports 1

Odds: Castres 12/5, Toulouse 3/10

Despite finishing top of the standings at the end of the regular season, it is Castres that are the underdogs going into Friday's clash with Toulouse in Nice.

Castres, who are 12/5 to win the semi-final in the 80 minutes, managed to win 17 of their 26 games during the regular season.

Argentine fly-half Benjamin Urdapilleta is an experienced player in the backline who helped Castres win the 2017-18 final against Montpellier thanks to his meticulous goal kicking.

Castres coach Pierre-Henry Broncan will be hoping his South American stand-off can handle the pressure once again, as Urdapilleta's kicking from hand and from the tee will be vital on Friday night.

Reaching three finals since 2013, and winning two of them, Castres know what it takes to go all the way in this tremendous competitive league.

Friday's opponents might well be their toughest test of all.

Toulouse enjoying Golden Generation

A formidable force through the 90s and into the turn of the millennium, Toulouse are now back playing the biggest games that northern hemisphere club rugby has to offer.

Although falling short in the Champions Cup semi-finals at the hands of Irish Province Leinster in Dublin, Toulouse are looking like the team to beat in the Top 14.

Winning the title last season, Toulouse are 3/10 to win Friday's encounter inside the 80 minutes.

Two of the reasons for the team's recent success has been the emergence of arguably the best half-back partnership in world rugby at the moment.

Scrum-half Antoine Dupont and fly-half Romain Ntamack have become the half-back envy of the world, with the pair helping France secure a first Six Nations Grand Slam since 2010 earlier this year.

Dupont and Ntamack are 25 and 23 years old respectively and arguably have their best rugby years ahead of them. A frightening thought.

Castres will need to put pressure on Dupont in and around the breakdown to make sure he does not get away with any of his trademark sniping runs from the base of the ruck.

Ntamack can’t be given time either, as he has the ability to find gaps in the defence and produce offloads that can change games in a moment.

Toulouse certainly won't have it all their own way but on neutral ground in Nice, they will be fancied to reach the final in Paris.

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Montpellier eyeing final return

What: Montpellier v Bordeaux

Where: Allianz Riviera, Nice

When: 20:05, Saturday 18th June 2022

How to watch: Premier Sports 2

Odds: Montpellier 6/4, Bordeaux 1/2

With just one final appearance in the last nine years, Montpellier will be desperate to reach the showpiece event of the French rugby calendar at the Stade de France.

Montpellier have often been there or thereabouts but have not managed to win the French title in the professional era.

Now with some serious investment they are looking to become the bride and not just the bridesmaid, with the likes of South Africans Hendre Pollard and Cobus Reinach looking to impress in the half-backs.

Skipper Fulgence Ouedraogo is a formidable figure in the back row and will be hoping to lead Montpellier to victory in Saturday's showdown with Bordeaux.

Bordeaux edge the odds

With only four points in it on the handicap market, it looks like Bordeaux and Montpellier could play out a tight encounter in Nice.

Bordeaux are 1/2 to win, with Montpellier at 6/4 to book their place in the final.

It was Les Girondins who managed to finish in third place at the end of the regular season and stunned the stars of Racing 92 with a 36-16 victory in the playoff quarter-finals.

That victory over the Parisian big spenders will have done the confidence in the Bordeaux ranks no harm at all ahead of their trip south.

It really looks like being a game that's too close to call, with the neutral venue set to play a major role.

The team that can cope with the heat and the speed of the game on the firm surface at the Allianz Riviera will have the best chance of making it to Paris.

With the showpiece event at the Stade de France within touching distance now, nobody wants their season to end in Nice.

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