The French rugby season is fast approaching its climax as the Guinness Six Nations stars of Clermont Auvergne and Toulouse prepare to contest the Top 14 final.
The re-run of the 2008 showpiece promises to be a enthralling affair with Toulouse capturing a record points tally to finish top of the regular-season table, while Clermont put more points on the scoreboard than any other team.
Head coach Franck Azema helped Clermont to their second Top 14 title in 2017 but their trophy haul is dwarfed by their opponents’, who are 19-time champions in search of the ‘La 20ème’.
Despite winning the title more than any other club in the competition’s history, Ugo Mola’s side have not lifted the Bouclier de Brennus since 2012 and will be desperate to get their hands on it once more.
The star-studded teams are both packed with Guinness Six Nations Frenchmen but perhaps one of the key battles on the field might be at scrum-half where Scotland and Clermont’s Greig Laidlaw is expected to square off against Antoine Dupont.
Laidlaw, second on the list of all-time Scottish points scorers in Rugby’s Greatest Championship, kicked Clermont into the final with a stunning display in their 33-13 win over Lyon and is on the hunt for his second piece of silverware this season, after helping them triumph in the European Rugby Challenge Cup last month.
Meanwhile 22-year-old Dupont was one of France’s leading lights in this year’s Guinness Six Nations, appearing in four of their five matches, and will be a constant threat for Toulouse.
Clermont also possess a deadly threat in the shape of Damian Penaud, another young Frenchman to enjoy a breakthrough season in the 2019 Guinness Six Nations.
Tries against England and Italy highlighted his talents and the winger was at it again in the semi-final win over Lyon, crossing for a lovely score.
But Toulouse will arrive in Paris armed with Yoann Huget and Maxime Medard, two of France’s most experienced back-three players.
Medard has lifted the Bouclier de Brennus on three occasions for his boyhood club while Huget is still in search of his first title since re-joining from Bayonne back in 2012.
The future of French rugby looks bright and the final could provide another big stage for versatile half-back Thomas Ramos to show what he is capable of after making his Guinness Six Nations debut this year.
His opposite number, Camille Lopez, has an older and more experienced head on his shoulders – having made his international debut back in 2013 – and will not want to be outdone by the young pretender.
The match has been billed as ‘The Dream Final’ for the neutral and if it is anything like the last time they faced one another, a blockbuster 47-44 win for Toulouse back in April, then spectators will be in for a treat.