Toulouse won the French title for a 20th time on Saturday beating Clermont 24-18.
With the season finished, we grade the performances of all 14 teams in the competition.
2018/19 record: Won 8, Draw 1, Lost 17
The Lot-et-Garonne outfit struggled in their second season back in the Top 14, finishing third from bottom. And for all the disappointment of their 17 defeats, they still managed to win eight games and stay in the top flight. With a shoestring budget, they are built for another relegation scrap next campaign alongside Brive and Bayonne.
2018/19 record: Won 12, Draw 1, Lost 13
Another mediocre season for Les Girondins. Raphael Ibanez’s side look a long way off securing a first ever play-off spot after finishing 10th – 13 points off sixth place. Bordeaux though has the best attendance in the league, with 20,409 spectators average, but were unable to convert that extra advantage on the points table. Financial issues are curtailing the club at present so it will be interesting to see what happens this summer.
2018/19 record: Won 15, Lost 11
Christophe Urios’s team looked devoid of the same class that saw them clinch Top 14 glory in 2018. The men from Midi Pyrenees were unable to replicate the same heroics, finishing outside of the play-offs by two points, despite having the best defensive record in the competition. Three defeats to Toulouse, Montpellier and Toulon in their last four matches proved costly to their quarter-final prospects.
2018/19 record: Won 16, Draw 3, Lost 7
A stunning season for Les Juanards, reaching the league final and winning the Challenge Cup, a vast contrast their 2018 campaign when they finished a disappointing ninth. They even scored a record number of tries for a side across a Top 14 term, and although they lost the decider to Toulouse, can take confidence form such a stellar season.
2018/19 record: Won 5, Draw 2, Lost 19
The black and reds struggled all year, culminating in relegation in their first season back in the top flight. With one of the worst defensive record in the league, it’s no surprise to see the side from the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region unable to compete with the majority of teams in the competition. Looked better in the middle of the year, after losing their first six games and their last five on the trot. Simply don’t have the talent and confidence to compete with the league’s heavyweights.
2018/19 record: Won 16, Lost 10
Jono Gibbs will be delighted with his first season as head coach, reaching the league semi-finals and Challenge Cup final. With the fourth best attacking record in the league, it is their defence that needs to fire if they are to scale the heights of the 2018-19 season. Irishman Ronan O’Gara will be a serious addition to the coaching ticket for next season.
2018/19 record: Won 17, Draw 1, Lost 8
An outstanding season for Les Loups, qualifying for a second successive semi-final. After finishing fifth in 2017-18, the club have shown they have no shortage of ambition mixing with the league’s best, improving their regular season position to third this term. Fought well for large spells of the semi-final against Clermont but were beaten by a better team. Hold the third best defensive record in the competition. Remarkable campaign overall.
2018/19 record: Won 14, Draw 1, Lost 11
Montpellier owner Mohad Altrad remains motivated as ever to secure a first Top 14 title and next year could be their year. With Guilhem Guirado and Eben Etzebeth joining after the World Cup, Les Cistes could be key challengers for league success. The men from the south had a mixed 2018-19 campaign, winning 14 of their 26 regular season games, before losing to a strong Lyon side in the quarter-finals.
2018/19 record: Won 9, Lost 17
Tasted six more defeats this term and looked like a side low on confidence in 10th place. Lost six matches in a row from rounds eight to 13, before suffering a horror 83-6 defeat to Toulouse last month. With the addition of new players for next campaign, Pau need to target a top-eight finish to show any form of improvement.
2018/19 record: Won 2, Lost 24
After securing the PRO D2 title last term, the yellow and reds were set for a promising campaign with the acquisition of 12 new players. But 24 defeats and the worst defensive record in the league has seen them slip back down to the second tier competition. If they are to ever improve, they need a stronger pack and more desire from their backline.
2018/19 record: Won 15, Draw 1 Lost 10
After reaching the finals of both domestic and European competitions in 2018, Racing failed to fire this campaign, bowing out at the quarter-final stage of the Champions Cup and losing to La Rochelle in the Top 14 quarter-finals. Fifteen wins this term is still a promising return for a side without their international stars for large spells of the season. With Simon Zebo (11 tries this season) and Finn Russell starting to shine, owner Jacky Lorenzetti will be hoping some silverware can back-up their efforts in 2020.
2018/19 record: Won 14, Lost 12
A much improved campaign for the Parisiens, winning five more games than last season and finishing eighth in the table. Question marks hang over Heyneke Meyer’s leadership, but they will need to use the summer holidays to rectify problems and try to inspire this crop of players to greater heights. It’s hard to believe their fall from grace since winning the Top 14 title in 2015.
2018/19 record: Won 12, Lost 14
Inconsistency has plagued their campaign and they failed to reach the play-offs for the first since 2011. Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe will have his work cut out for him next season with an ageing squad that lacks drive and firepower. Former All Black Julian Savea was meant to produce the magic but was anonymous all season. Owner Mourad Boudjellal even joked that he wanted to give a player a DNA test to see if he had actually signed the right player.
2018/19 record: Won 16, Draw 1, Lost 9
Le Stade finished in pole position at the end of the Top 14 regular season and lifted the title in their first final appearance since 2012. They played an attractive brand of rugby and deservedly lifted the silverware after a series of consistent displays across the season. In Romain Ntamack, Thomas Ramos, Antoine Dupont and Cheslin Kolbe, they possess some of the best young players in the game.
Four teams remain in the World Rugby U20 Championship after the pool stages were wrapped up last week.
Australia, South Africa and Argentina topped their respective groups, while defending champions France emerged from their pool as best second-placed team.
The biggest surprise, however, was record six-time winners New Zealand failing to qualify for the last four for just the second time in the tournament’s 12-year history.
Here is how we rank the teams ahead of Monday’s semi-finals.
The Wallabies have been in scintillating form during this tournament, topping their pool thanks to victories against Ireland (45-17) and Italy (36-12).
Winners of the Oceania Championships last month, where they overcame a tough New Zealand side in the final, Australia are looking like the team to beat in Argentina, moving the ball at pace while also being disciplined in defence.
Star players are sprinkled all over the field, but in Will Harrison, Harry Wilson and the elusive Isaac Lucas, they boast three players who can often be the tipping point between winning and losing.
2. SOUTH AFRICA
Best finish: Winners 2012
Player to watch: Phendulani Buthelezi (Sharks)
The Baby Boks are the only unbeaten team left in the competition and will take serious confidence after dumping out New Zealand (25-17) last week.
Backed by wins over Scotland (43-19) and Georgia (48-20), Chean Roux will be hoping his destructive pack, led by influential captain Phendulani Buthelezi, can get the upper hand on a dominant French side in the semi-finals on Monday.
The last time the Boks played in the U20 final was 2014 against England, with the Red Rose prevailing by a point (21-20).
Could they rise to the fore five years later in Rosario?
Best finish: Winners 2018
Player to watch: Jordan Joseph (Racing 92)
The reigning champions may be lacking the same class as last year’s side, but still have enough quality to advance to a second final in two years.
After clinching wins over Fiji (36-20) and Wales (32-13), France crashed to a 47-26 defeat to Argentina in their final pool game, but claimed the best runner-up spot to keep their title hopes alive.
In Jordan Joseph (18), Les Bleus have one of the most exciting players in the competition.
The Junior Player of the Year is a powerful presence from the base of the scrum and currently leads the scoring charts with four tries in three matches.
Best finish: Third place 2016
Player to watch: Ignacio Mendy (Jaguares)
The Pumas have captured the imagination of the home crowd with their attractive brand of rugby and strong, attacking game plan.
The home side endured a slow start to their campaign, losing narrowly to Wales (30-25) before seeing off Fiji (41-14) to set up a frenetic final pool match against the defending champions.
Needing to beat France to seal a place in the last four, they roared into life in front of an energetic Rosario crowd to secure a 47-26 victory, thus topping the pool and reaching a third semi-final in 12 appearances.
Next up are the Wallabies.
SEMI-FINAL FIXTURES FOR MONDAY (UAE TIME)
20:00 – Argentina v Australia
22:30 – France v South Africa
Israel Folau has been offered a route back to international rugby with Tonga.
Folau currently finds himself in the wilderness after his contracts with both Rugby Australia and club side Waratahs were terminated after he posted controversial comments on social media in April.
The 30-year-old has since instigated legal action against the governing body and is understood to be demanding damages in the region of 10 million Australian dollars.
There is, however, an international lifeline for Folau, should he wish to choose it, being offered by Tonga coach and 60-times capped former Wallaby Toutai Kefu.
Although Folau has represented Australia, there is a loophole that would allow him to play for Tonga.
Folau would have to sit out international rugby for three years before taking part in an Olympic sevens qualifying tournament, which in turn would allow him to compete in the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, Kefu said: “We’d love to have him … the next World Cup he’d be available for us hopefully.
“It’s a long time away, so we’ll let the dust settle a bit after his most recent issues.
“We don’t even know if he’s going to play again. He hasn’t indicated where he is going, so we’ll wait until the dust settles and then look at those options.
“He’d have to sit out three years and then even after that we’d have to re-qualify him through a sevens Olympic qualifying tournament.”
A factor behind any potential decision is that Folau’s brother, John, is set to be named in Tonga’s World Cup squad over the next few days.
Provided by Press Association Sport