Whilst most of the rugby public will be gorging on the start of the inaugural Rugby Championship this weekend, the start of France’s top league will provide a delicious side dish to a rugby feast this weekend.
As per usual, the French teams have been busy flexing their considerable financial muscle in the transfer market in search of the perfect mercenaries for their cause. There are several teams in this league that could easily call themselves the PSG or Manchester City of the rugby world.
Therefore making any clairvoyant prediction this season, will be harder than ever. A recent survey or ‘sondage’ taken by French rugby paper Midi Olympique, on who the coaches think will win the league revealed that the majority of them felt Clermont Auvergne will win le Bouclier de Brennus next June, not the big Ts of Toulouse or Toulon.
Pedrie Wannenburg (Ulster-Castres), Napolioni Nalaga (Western Force-Clermont), Benson Stanley (Auckland Blues-Clermont), Sona Taumalolo (Waikato Chiefs-Perpignan), Luke Charteris (Dragons-Perpignan), Luke Narraway, Alistair Strockosch (Gloucester-Perpignan), Dimitri Szarzewski (Stade-Racing), Chris Masoe (Castres-Toulon), Freddie Michalak (Natal Sharks-Toulon), Delon Armitage (London Irish-Toulon), Maxime Mermoz (Perpignan-Toulon), Andrew Sheriden (Sale-Toulon), Gethin Jenkins (Cardiff Blues-Toulon), Nick Kennedy (London Irish-Toulon).
Toulon, Toulouse and Clermont have all made strong statements in their pre-season friendlies. Toulon destroyed Mont de Marzan, Stade Francais and Bordeaux Begles amassing a menacing 120 points across the three games. Clermont thumped the Ospreys 49-25 and Toulouse beat Racing, Perpignan and Brive in three hard fought wins.
Teams to Watch
TOULON: Sheikh (might as well be) Moujad Boujellal has been busy in the transfer market in his quest for a dream-team. Toulon were unlucky to finish as runners up last year to Toulouse, but they are coming back bigger (literally) and better. Their pack will be enormous and their back line will have everything: pace, power, flair and solidity.
CLERMONT AUVERGNE: Haven’t been particularly busy in the transfer market, but they already posses a strong squad. Benson Stanley and Wesley Fofana will form a pretty formidable centre pairing. They perhaps could have bolstered their forward pack a little, but if they avoid injury they will be in the mix come the business end of the season.
TOULOUSE: The champions have been typically shrewd in the transfer market. Yoann Huget has been their marquee signing, but it will be interesting to see how they evolve without the recently retired club legend William Servat.
PERPIGNAN: The Catalan club had a poor season last year by their standards and have been quite busy in the transfer market as a result. They have cleared out a lot of the dead wood (though Jerome Porical and Maxime Mermoz will be big losses) and have brought in a number of big names, especially up front. Look out for the try scoring machine for the Waikato Chiefs’ winning Super Rugby team in the form of Tongan prop Sona Taumalolo.
Toulon to beat Clermont in the final. Take care when making predictions as some teams in France just don’t turn up away from home (they often just don’t fancy it).
By Mike Dolan @michaeldolan18