This weekend sees the start of the French domestic rugby season, with the Top 14 swinging into action tonight. It’s greeat news for everyone who can’t wait for the season to start, but the length of the season is a concern.
Many of the teams will be starting the season without their top players, since the mandatory rest period of eight weeks has not yet passed since the international games earlier in the summer.
The officials have also extended the playoff structure, so that teams finishing fifth and sixth will have a chance at making the semi-finals by facing the teams that finish third and fourth. The top two teams will be guaranteed a semi-final berth.
The headline fixture is Toulon against Stade Francais on Friday, where Jonny Wilkinson will be lining up for coach Philippe Saint-Andre, against a Stade team that is likely to include James Haskell, Tom Palmer and Julien Dupuy. You can’t really say that these names are Wilkinson’s familiar foes, because he has played so little rugby, but it will be fascinating to see how Wilko fares.
There are more familiar names in action on Saturday, with Jamie Noon, Riki Flutey, Shaun Perry and Andy Goode in Brive’s squad to play Montpellier.
Eurosport don’t seem to be covering French Rugby anymore, so if anyone has spotted where it might be shown, perhaps you could let us know!