French giants risk missing the Champions Cup with play-offs on cards

PARIS: The top 14 presidents will meet on Wednesday to decide which French clubs will play in the upcoming European season Champions League after the national campaign was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The current campaign was declared last week after the French government said rugby and football It could not be resumed until September.

The season was stopped with nine regular season rounds to go and league title holders Toulouse, three-time continental winners Toulon and table toppers Bordeaux-Begles could miss out on the elite European competition next season depending on which of the four options the bosses choose.

The stand-out favourite scenario is to hold play-offs in September between the teams sitting between the fifth and eighth places, sources have told AFP.

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Possible playoffs could see Victor Vito's La Rochelle versus Handre Pollard's Montpellier. There could also be a repeat of last year's Top 14 final with Jerome Kaino's Toulouse potentially against a Clermont team that could have the new signing Kotaro Matsushima, the winger who starred in Japan at the World Cup last year. , available.

Other avenues to be considered include taking last season's standings which would leave Toulon and Bordeaux-Begles in Europe's second-tier competition, the Challenge Cup.

"If it happens, we'll adapt and play the match in the best conditions," Montpellier coach Xavier Garbajosa told radio station France Bleu.

Today, our position after 17 rounds does not allow us to have complaints, he added.

Sports daily L'Equipe reported last week that next season's Champions League will change from its format of five pools of four teams to one with 18 outfits in one group starting in December.

According to the report, sides will play two different teams home and away with the top eight reaching the quarter-finals so as to save a weekend and play the knock-outs from the currently postponed season in the autumn.

The idea is to have no games with nothing at stake at the end of the group stage, Lyon president Yann Roubert told the newspaper.

The chiefs' decision about which half a dozen French outfits play in the Champions League will have to be validated by the executive board of the league which is likely to meet next week.

The board, which includes French rugby federation president Bernard Laporte In addition to the club bosses, they are expected to announce that there will be no Top 14 winner for the first time since World War II.

France is expected to lift its national shutdown on Monday, but experts warn of the danger of a second wave of infections in a country where more than 25,000 people have died.

It's hard. We did not want this season to end. I thought until the end we would have knockouts in September, the Bordeaux-Begles center, Jean-Baptiste Dubie told AFP.

But how can we play if we cannot control the spread of the virus? It feels unreal, he added.