Only eight games remain before the end of the qualifying round, and with Racing Metro 92 reinforced by the return of their international players, today’s encounter against Bayonne (6.30PM) is another crucial match for the Ciel et Blanc. (Credit photo : Marc Mittoux)
The weeks go by and no two are alike. After last weekend’s double with the Six Nations Championship where, despite being deprived of seven international players, Racing Metro 92 managed to snatch a 19-19 draw in Perpignan, for the home game against Bayonne this week, the Ciel et Blanc has been able to draw on all their players.
A detail which may well make the difference in the race for qualification. Because, having hit form in the dazzling victory against Stade Toulousain (25-5) three weeks ago, in between two international fixtures the Franciliens can once again draw on the full strength of their squad. Accordingly, our captain Dimitri Szarzewski and Maxime Machenaud, who both had stand-out games in France’s wins against England and Italy, are back in the starting fifteen today. While Jonny Sexton, Ireland’s fly-half who notched up 27 points in his two games for the men in green, will be on the bench, alongside the Wales, and former Bayonne scrum-half, Mike Phillips.
Having clocked up maximum game time for Wales in the opening rounds of the Championship, Jamie Roberts and Dan Lydiate have admittedly been rested today by the club. But the Ciel et Blanc can thankfully count on Wenceslas Lauret, the promising French international who is back from injury. After two months out, Lauret comes straight back into the starting XV, making up for the absence of fellow flanker Bernard Le Roux, who is following the concussion protocol after being injured in France’s win against Italy at the Stade de France last Sunday.
No doubt the Ciel et Blanc coaches Laurent Labit and Laurent Travers will have to draw on all this talent in their quest for maximum points from today’s game at Yves-du-Manoir. In an exceptionally dense pool table, where ten clubs can still qualify for the semis, but where five are also under the threat of relegation, Dimitri Szarzewski and his men must absolutely pick up their game where they left it against Toulouse on February 25th. But they must also keep on track in terms of team spirit and self-sacrifice so vital if they are to ensure a place in the top 6.
According to Laurent Travers, co-coach of the Ciel et Blanc, it is the top two inches that will make the difference. “We are at a phase in the championship where every single point counts, and it is the team that cracks mentally which will be in trouble;” he said. “In the end it will all come down to mental strength.”
Which is why the experience and composure of our internationals is so crucial. “There are only eight games left for us to qualify,” insisted Travers. “There is no longer any margin for error.”
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