As we continue to expand our coverage here on The Rugby Blog, we take a look at a key story from the French Top 14.
As things stand, Clermont sit in 9th position in the Top 14 after two defeats from their opening three games. Therefore, the news that their influential captain is out for at least three months isn’t exactly what they wanted to hear right now. In fact, it is bordering on disaster for the French club.
The reality is though that Aurélien Rougerie – who was joint top scorer in the Heineken Cup last season – has sustained a hernia injury and is likely to be out of action for the rest of 2008. The French international winger will miss the remainder of the opening half of the Top 14 as well as the first four Heineken Cup pool matches. Considering the way he performed in this tournament last year, Clermont fans will be forgiven for thinking that it is a significant blow to their chances of progression.
Clermont will certainly find it hard to replace a man with such fine attributes for a winger. The 27-year-old is strong, tall and – most importantly – very, very quick. He possesses everything that is needed for a modern day winger. I personally find it frustrating that he doesn’t get as much of a look in for France these days – I would guess that Vincent Clerc and Cedric Heymans are the main factors contributing to this.
Something that can’t be doubted is the impact he has on the Clermont side. He has helped them make a name for themselves not only in the Top 14 but in Europe as well. They were the losing finalists in the Top 14 for an incredible ninth time last season. They have a nasty habit of falling at the last hurdle – that’s for sure. Last year, despite being the dominant side throughout the season and finishing top of the table after playing some quite breathtaking rugby, they lost in the Top 14 final to Toulouse and were again thinking about what might have been.
In terms of rugby betting, there is no doubt that Clermont were expected to be flying high at the top of the table again this season. However, after defeats to Toulon and Bayonne already, it could turn out to be a very different campaign for them. Especially when you consider that they now have to cope without Rougerie for the rest of the year.
Clermont coach Vern Cotter is a respected man in rugby though and he will need to rally his troops in the coming weeks. They know that they can still be a force to be reckoned with, it’s just a matter of stringing two or three results together to gain some momentum.
Unfortunately though, they face their nemesis Toulouse on Saturday and at this moment in time, I imagine the rugby odds are favouring a victory for the Top 14 Champions. Clermont do have home advantage though and it will be intriguing to see how they cope without their influential skipper against a Toulouse side who sit fourth in the table after two wins out of three so far this season.
By Thomas Rooney