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La Rochelle boost Top 14 play-off hopes ahead of Euro final

Paris (AFP) – La Rochelle warmed up for next weekend’s European Champions Cup final with a 32-13 win over Stade Francais on Saturday which boosted their Top 14 play-off hopes.

Pierre Popelin scored one of his team’s four tries for a personal haul of 17 points with Arthur Retiere, Romain Sazy and Pierre Boudehent also crossing.

The win lifted La Rochelle, who made a host of changes ahead of the European final against Leinster in Marseille next weekend, into third place in the table with the top six to make the end-of-season play-offs.

“We had a revamped team with a little less connection,” said back-rower Matthias Haddad.

“But our strength of character was able to give us the victory. In the second half, we had problems but with this taste for sacrifice, we couldn’t lose.”

La Rochelle will be appearing in a second European Cup final after losing to Toulouse last season.

Bordeaux-Begles brushed aside Lyon 42-10 while Montpellier defeated Racing92 22-13 to become the first two teams to qualify for the final phase of the Top 14. 

French star Mathieu Jalibert scored two of Bordeaux’s five tries against a Lyon side who next week face Toulon in the European Challenge Cup final.

“Now the goal is to finish in the top two, it would be a disappointment not to not be there,” said Bordeaux coach Christophe Urios.

“But it will not be easy because we will have an extremely perilous trip to Perpignan (in their final game of the regular season).

Defending champions Toulouse, who were deposed as European champions by Leinster in the semi-finals last weekend, hit back to beat Brive 26-8 to stay in contention for the play-offs.

Despite losing New Zealand prop Charlie Faumina to a red card after just 17 minutes for a dangerous tackle on Luka Japaridze, the defending champions saw scrum-half star Antoine Dupont and Australian lock Emmanuel Meafou score their two tries.

Full-back Thomas Ramos booted the other 16 points.

Toulouse are sixth in the table with one round of matches left to play.

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