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These four players have navigated their squads through the most rigorous schedule of any league in professional rugby. Once more these juggernauts must battle it out for a shot at the Top14 Final.
Four teams enter the Top 14 Semifinals. Two will leave victors, none leave unscathed.
Watch the 2019 French Top 14 Semifinal: Toulouse vs La Rochelle at 7:00pm GMT June 8th
Watch the 2019 French Top 14 Semifinal: Clermont vs Lyon at 2:30pm GMT June 9th
Peceli Yato - Clermont
Yato has been with Clermont since the 2014-15 season, so he’s seen just about every ending possible on a weekend like this. He was an integral piece to the 2017 Top14 champion squad. That season he had two Top14 tries, this year he’s got 10. He helped Clermont to the European Challenge cup victory and he wants more.
Perhaps one of the most destructive forwards in World Rugby 🔥 Peceli Yato is not a man to donate room to 😳— Challenge Cup (@ERChallengeCup) May 7, 2019
Give him space in the #ChallengeCupRugby Final and @ASMOfficiel could run riot 💛
Would he make your top 20 players in Europe? 🤔 pic.twitter.com/MarDUHaVVG
His creativity in the offload belongs with his countrymen on the HSBC 7s World Series, but his 6’4” 240lbs fits perfectly with the Fiji Rugby World Cup squad to which he was named just two weeks ago.
GOT fans are you ready?— Fiji Rugby Union (@fijirugby) May 1, 2019
When July gathers, our watch begins!
And here is our Jon Snow....
Peceli Yato World's 2nd best open side Flanker and Top 14's #1.
91 RPI score
(source: Rugbypass) pic.twitter.com/IGKZYiXwPb
Yato can play on both flanks and No. 8 and he is typically counted on to play all 80 minutes for Clermont in a league that is known to be brutal on the body.
Lastly, he’s an upstanding sportsman. Perpignan had a miserable promotional season in the Top14, but notice what Yato did in a match in which he scored three tries on 17 carries for 175 meters.
Got to love this from Clermont v Perpignan. Yato gets a slight touch on a clearance into touch which the ref misses.— Paul Eddison (@pauleddison) May 7, 2019
Ruiz awards the lineout to Clermont, but Yato goes up to him and tells him he touched the ball, so Perpignan get the ball back.pic.twitter.com/jghGmhHgGN
Ihaia West - La Rochelle
This time last season the La Rochelle players finished as the 7th seed, and left watching the Top14 playoffs from the couch. This year they finished fifth and snuck past Racing 92 to advance to the semifinals and face Toulouse. They can thank Ihaia West. He was perfect from penalty kicks and conversions with 14 in the team’s 19-13 win.
Before this season, West was most notably remembered for his match-winning try for the Blues that delivered the British Irish Lions the first defeat of their 2017 tour. After this season, he’ll be remembered for leading the Top14 in points.
The Hurricanes have signed Ihaia West for next season.— Rugby Lives (@RugbyLives) June 28, 2017
The man who helped the Blues do this to the Lions 👊 pic.twitter.com/siXH6V5IYU
Ihaia West faced a fair bit of criticism for leaving New Zealand. Can you blame him for opting to not play second fiddle to the two-time World Rugby Player of The Year?
West has a chance this weekend to not only advance La Rochelle to the Top14, but solidify his reputation as one of the best flyhalfs in World Rugby.
Sofiane Guitone - Toulouse
Toulouse is at the top of the table and it’s not really that close. They should be the heavy favorite over La Rochelle.
Toulouse is a great team with great structure and depth, so let’s not pretend like one player will carry the whole squad. But if the match came down to one player making a play to seal the match, put your money on Sofiane Guitone.
Why? Because he did it just two months ago.
It was really the last time Toulouse was in a close match. Guitone scored two tries at home against Clermont, the team that Toulouse could very well see in the final. The first try of the match and the last. Down by four points in the 77th minute, Guitone called his own number and took the ball over the line for the win.
Guitone is two tries away from the top of the try-scoring leaderboard. Expect Guitone to back himself if Toulouse needs one late.
Jonathan Wisniewski - Lyon
One of the best goal kickers in the sport today. Wisniewski has been playing professional rugby in France for 17 years and at age 33 this is his moment. Lyon lost last season in the semifinal and they are back. They faced Clermont twice this season and the series was split.
The Top14 semifinal is the rubber match, and the Wisniewski has been waiting.
He bounced around teams for most of his young career, before signing a two-year contract with Lyon just over a year ago. At one point Wisniewski was even rumored to be on his way to Clermont until the move was called off.
Many of the Lyon’s matches this season came down to the wire, and it was the goal kicker that made the difference. Wisniewski has rarely had opportunities to represent France, and at 33 he’s past the point that he will.
Playoff rugby always means stout and aggressive defense. Expect few tries and more penalties, thus more penalty kicks.
Fear the flyhalf that could ride off into the sunset a hero.
Fear the leg of Lyon.