The French rugby championship is sometimes cruel. With its play-offs, then its semi-finals, organized at the end of a regular season of twenty-six days, a team installed in high altitudes sometimes stumbles near the goal, eliminated by less well ranked than it.
This year however, the Top 14 will crown one of the two most regular and dominant formations. This is not to insult either Union Bordeaux-Bègles (UBB), defeated on Saturday June 10, by La Rochelle (24-13), or Racing 92, which suffered the same fate the day before against Stade Toulouse as to affirm that the final, Saturday June 17 at the Stade de France, will oppose what is done best in France and in Europe.
The Maritimes advanced towards this semi-final of the championship, organized in the Anoeta stadium in Donostia-San Sebastián, as favorites after their capital demonstration, three weeks earlier, in the Champions Cup final. By triumphing over Leinster (almost the Irish team), they had shown that upsetting the steamroller from La Rochelle was not within the reach of any team.
It did not take long to have confirmation again this Saturday. Slowly, gradually, the machine got underway, and despite their efforts, the people of Bordeaux did not manage to stop it. The more the minutes passed, the more the Maritimes, powerful and disciplined, nibbled away at Girondin hopes.
Three times, they found their way to the in-goal thanks to the power of their forwards: in the 9e minute by winger Dyllin Leyds after a dominant scrum; at the 21e by hooker Pierre Bourgarit after an overpowering maul; at the 38e through Paul Boudehent, nicely served by Grégory Alldritt.
In defense, in the rucks, the Rochelais made life hell for the Bordelais. And when the half-time was whistled, it was hard to see the final escaping them, they who then led 21 to 3. tribunes suggested that, perhaps, all was not settled.
A more balanced second period
In fact, in the second half, the debates were balanced. Firstly because the UBB forwards have finally found some weaknesses in the rocky wall. Then, because the Bordelais have managed, thanks to a more effective kicking game, to visit the opponent’s camp more regularly. Arriving in addition to put speed in their races and their actions, they put the Rochelais in difficulty. And it paid off, the Bordelais collecting a penalty try, accompanied by a yellow card for the yellow and black Paul Boudehent, in the 49the minute.
The Martimes had been able to save their players thanks to their early qualification for the semi-final. Yet, physically, they began to skate. “With the heat, and perhaps the lack of rhythm [les titulaires n’avaient pas joué depuis trois semaines] we were in the tough in the second half” recognized the coach of the three-quarters of La Rochelle, Sébastien Boboul.
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But the advance taken in the first period proved to be a sufficient cushion. Moreover, there was always a yellow and black to throw grains of sand in the mechanics of Bordeaux: every time or almost that the UBB visited the half of the field of its evening rivals, it was countered and neutralized. When came the 80e minute, on yet another messed up ball, the La Rochelle supporters could exult and Santianothe song of Hugues Aufray chosen to celebrate the victories of their team, resound in Anoeta.
Towards a dream final
For the third year in a row, the course of the UBB therefore stops, in the semi-finals. The defeat is bitter, but the Bordelais can find grounds for hope. Where would they be today if their season had been a little more regular and their environment more peaceful (their manager, Christophe Urios, was sacked in November)? The Gironde team was in penultimate place in the championship at the end of the fourth day. In this context, reaching this stage of the competition is a feat.
The Rochelais, they continue their journey towards a possible first shield of Brennus and a possible double with the European Cup, an immense performance that few clubs can boast of having achieved.
It will first be necessary to defeat Stade Toulouse. The match, scheduled in a week at the Stade de France is the one that all lovers of the oval ball hoped for. The one who will oppose cohorts of internationals, three months before the World Cup. The one who will see the raw power of the Rochelais collide with the proverbial mastery of the Toulouse people. The duel between the rising club and the venerable institution.
The Maritimes remain on three defeats in their last cutthroat matches against Toulouse. “We will try to ward off fate”, promises Sébastien Boboul. Jefferson Poirot, the defeated pillar of the UBB, sees them triumphing this time: “For four years, the team that beat us in the final phase has been champion. »