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French Top 8 on a knife-edge

The competitiveness of the French Top 8 continued into the first leg of the semi-finals.

There will be everything to play for in the second leg of the French Top 8 semi-finals after the first leg games in Toulouse ended with no clear advantage for any team

The live TV cameras were at Blagnac, where the team that finished fourth in the regular season hosted champions Montpellier – and the TV audience was on the edge of its seats until the final whistle.

The match was a repeat of last year’s semi-final where Montpellier took the first leg in Blagnac 19-13, before winning at home as well 22-17. This year the gap has closed.

Even so the first half went firmly for the champions, with Montpellier scoring two tries in the opening twenty minutes. But the Blagnacaises were not finished and a try and a penalty allowed them to reach the break with a score of 10 to 15. 

The second half belonged to Blagnac. Montpellier tried to dominate again, at started with a third try. But with the score at 10-22, Blagnac battled back scored two more tries, with the last score from Charlotte Torres Duxans coming in the last minute to level the tie at 22-22.

Blagnac coach Nicolas Tranier was very happy with the result: “We are still in the tie. With the strength of character our players have shown, everything is possible, especially as we are on an equal footing with the number of tries.”

Opponent’s coach Patrick Raffy was also positive: “Despite of the last try being allowed, which made me a little bitter, the result seems quite fair as both sides having strong moments and their weak moments. We will have the advantage of playing the decisive game at home, although we remember how close the games have been in the past season.”

Over the river, the following day Toulouse took on Lille with the game acting as a curtain raiser for a men’s Top 14 fixture. The weather helped ensure the game was just as close as the first semi-final, with conditions helping ensure that both defences were unbreakable, the game being decided by the kickers. Alex Pertus was on target first for Lille midway through the first half, Maud Lanteaume pulled the home team level three minutes later, before Pertus put the visitors back in front five minutes after that. Both each had a chance to increase their scores before the break, but without success. A deadlocked second half, and Lille went home with a tiny three-point advantage.

The verdict of the coaches? Anthony Granja from Toulouse was “neither worried nor disappointed. The right intentions were there, and I cannot criticise the state of mind. The weather did not help, but was the same for both teams.”

Damien Couvreur of Lille “The conditions were not conducive for a running game, and it was necessary to adapt, in defense in particular, even leaving the possession of the ball to the opponent. And we have to be careful as we have only come away a slight advantage, sp everything remains possible for one side or the other. We will remain be all the more vigilant as Stade Toulousain’s scrum is formidable. "

The second leg games are this weekend – and its impossible to be certain who will make the final on 13th May.