French Rugby Omens Mixed for Waratahs, Bad for France

Rolling Maul contributor and Vienna resident The Michelin Man has been pondering if the finals series of the Top14 (the French domestic Rugby competition) can provide any clues to tipsters and punters on the likely results of the Super Rugby finals and the Rugby World Cup. After attending the final and partaking in the local customs (particularly of the beer and food varieties) he has this to say:

Consider this: The final of the Top 14 on 4 June was between Toulouse (which finished first on the table after the regular season) and Montpellier (which finished fifth). Does this mean that the Waratahs will make the final but lose it to the Reds?

If I have understood the workings of the finals system correctly, this could happen if both the Sharks and the Waratahs win this weekend, and then the Reds beat the Sharks and the Warathas beat the Stormers the following week. How unlikely is such a scenario?

There was a certain novelty in the Top14 final, since Montpellier had fought its way there from fifth place by winning two tight elimination games (think Tahs vs Highlanders and then Brumbies). Most people I talked to before the game said they wanted to see Montpellier win presumably as a reward for this feat and for the fact that they were in the finals for the first time in their history, but nevertheless thought that Toulouse would be too strong. Another possible link to the Super Rugby and the Waratahs? Perhaps not. Seems the Reds are the sentimental favourites in Australia.

Oddly there were still tickets available up to the start of the game. Someone suggested that this was because the Toulouse fans, so accustomed to their team playing in and winning big matches, were weary of travelling from their home base to other cities when, at least for them, the result was not seriously in doubt (particularly in this case when their team had easily beaten Clermont Ferrand (the champion in 2010) in the semi final).

There was a party atmosphere around the game, particularly on the kilometre and a half long walk from the railway station to the Stade de France – stalls selling beer, food and the usual team paraphernalia. Your correspondent got so caught up in the atmosphere that he cracked and bought an overpriced Montpellier cap. The merguez-frites sandwich is particularly recommended.

Your correspondent was struck by the number of groups having a ‘picknick’ around the stadium before the start of the game, including drinking lots of beer. This may have had something to do with the fact that beer is so expensive in Parisian bars/cafes. Anyway, not something I recall seeing in Australia.

The non-violent reputation of rugby fans was reconfirmed. No brawls, no riots, no juvenile stoushes between the supporters of the two teams. Unlike for football (socccer) matches, there was a minimal police presence. Your correspondent found himself in the middle of a group of Toulouse fans, but never felt threatened enough that he felt he had to take off his Montpellier cap.

There was a good atmosphere in the Stade de France, a lot of flag waving and chanting from both sides, a few failed Mexican waves. No cheerleaders, but at least some fireworks after the game (including a bizarre, almost apocalyptic, vision I had of some pyrotechnician running onto the field during the fireworks to fix a launcher – I thought I was going to witness a human barbeque).

As for the game itself, it wasn’t the most exciting of finals. Only one try was scored (a good one at least), by Montpellier in the first half, who were leading for most of the match but were gradually overhauled by the pressure and penalty kicking of Toulouse, who eventuially won 15-10. The cliché of the advantage of big match experience was mentioned.

So if the Top14 final provides mixed messages to the chances of the Waratahs in the Super rugby finals, what about France in the World Cup? Again, interpret it how you will. Whether it doesn’t provide any clues or France doesn’t have a chance, it's not looking good for France, but in the interests of domestic harmony (my wife is French), I will refrain from further comment. I just hope they play a more exciting type of rugby than what was on display at the Stade de France.