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Dewi Morris is predicting a Top 14 title for Stade Francais

Sergio Parisse
Image: Sergio Parisse: Made 14 tackles and carried nine times in last week's semi-final

Dewi Morris is predicting a Stade Francais win in this weekend's Top 14 final against Clermont...

What a final this promises to be. In terms of predictions I have been beating the Clermont drum all season long and for a few seasons before it. Their stadium is the best that I've seen in the Top 14 in terms of atmosphere and the brand of rugby they employ inside it is brilliant. However, based on the two semi-finals I watched over the weekend, I’m calling a Stade Francais win in Paris.

I see the battle in Paris going down to the scrums, and if they are officiated correctly, Stade prop Rabah Slimani will have the better of Thomas Domingo in my opinion. It will be an 80-minute war between both front rows and Slimani and Domingo will be at the tip of it. Any front-row purists out there will want to catch the game for that match-up alone.

As a combination I have been impressed with the way the Stade front three have operated in the last two games. Slimani along with Remy Bonfils and Heinke van der Merwe have been hugely influential and I think they will go a long way to deciding the outcome of this match.

In the second row Hugh Pyle and Alexandre Flanquart were ever-present against Toulon in a game in which they came up against a very experienced lock pairing of Bakkies Botha and Ali Williams.

If I was Clermont I would be looking to put a big hit on him early on. Nothing illegal of course, but something to potentially shake his confidence so that he will think twice about running with the ball or coming up too quickly in defence.
Dewi Morris

Clermont on the other hand miss Jamie Cudmore in that area. His weight, his presence and the way he takes hold of games will leave a gap for the Clermont side in the final.

The loose trios as always will be a huge factor in defining the outcome and I think Raphael Lakafia, Antoine Burban and Sergio Parisse have the measure of their opposite numbers in terms of balance as a unit.

Leaders

The leadership from the two captains will also be vital. Damien Chouly against Sergio Parisse will not just be between two loose forwards, but between two leaders. Last week Parisse carried nine times and made 14 tackles, while Chouly made 12 tackles to go with his nine carries, so the workload of both is impressive and they both lead by doing. Which of the two will carry that over the final hurdle?

I hate using clichés but Parisse has genuinely become better with age. What he is able to do around the field is incredible, and despite almost 15 years at the top, his work rate hasn't tired. Defensively he is a big figure to have in your team, not just for his individual presence but for the way in which he organises the other 14 players around him.

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Dewi Morris selected five players to look out for in this weekend's Top 14 final. Who will come out on top between Clermont and Stade Francais?

If I was Clermont I would be looking to put a big hit on him early on. Nothing illegal of course, but something to potentially shake his confidence so that he will think twice about running with the ball or coming up too quickly in defence.

The first semi-final was an emotional day for everyone, and perhaps it influenced a few of the Toulon players but in the end Stade were just too good on the day. They were gritty in the tight exchanges, outsmarted them and came out on top.

Punish

A man who was influential with the boot that day was Morne Steyn. He did a marvellous job of punishing the mistakes made by Toulon on the back of his pack's efforts. He was sitting on the sidelines earlier in the season but with Jules Plisson out he's stepped straight into his role as the directional kingpin of the team. He hasn't looked a bit out of place and to show for it he slotted 45 points in the quarter-final and semi-final.

Steyn will punish Clermont with his right foot if they concede too many penalties in their own half, but with that said, Stade will not want to kick possession to a backline that boasts the likes of Wesley Fofana, Benson Stanley and Nick Abendanon.

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Those three, given an ounce of space, will ensure that Stade end up behind their poles time after time. Stade will need to be every bit as clinical in the rucks and mauls as they were last week, if not more, and the same goes for defence in open play.

As for my prediction, well Clermont have always been the bridesmaids. They've had European and Top 14 heartbreak on a number of occasions. Nathan Hines was on the show with us last week and was asked why Clermont have failed to convert opportunities into silverware and he said it was hard to put his finger on it. If he can't, the rest of us have no chance.

Despite all that I’ve gone for a Stade Francais win on Saturday, but it wouldn't hurt me in the slightest if Clermont prove me wrong.

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