Shift in power as new Top 14 season kicks-off

We may only be one round into the new domestic rugby season in France, but already one of the shock results of the year has been recorded. Bordeaux Bègles, one of the relegation favourites whose biggest name (aside from the un-pronounceable Metuisela Talebulamaijaina on the wing) is probably ex-Northampton Saint Bruce Reihana, recorded a 31-25 win over traditional powerhouse Toulouse. The result leaves Toulouse in the relegation zone and Bordeaux second in the table. Unlikely as that is to last, it does provide an almost comical reversal of what is expected – the Betfair Sportsbook has Toulouse at 9/2 to win the competition this year, only offering shorter odds on Clermont or Toulon.

Toulouse had selected a strong side, too, with the likes of Luke McAlister, Thierry Dusautoir and Louis Picamoles all starting, so there can be no excuses there. The toulousain way has always been to recruit local players, and certainly focus on national stars, but the man who embodies that spirit – head coach Guy Noves – has publicly said Toulouse need to look to foreign talent in the future after he has seen his squad decimated year after year by French national call-ups. It has left the most successful club in European history a shadow of its former self, and has seen the recruitment this year of international stars such as Hosea Gear and Chiliboy Ralepelle. While neither started at the weekend, they will not have been impressed with what they saw of their new club.

Another fallen giant comes in the form of Stade Français, the Parisian outfit who lost at the weekend to Grenoble. While Grenoble will be expected to do better than Bordeaux, and this result is thus less of a surprise, it is still a game that Stade would have wanted to have won. Their away form was very much their undoing last season, and sadly this one has started in a similar vein.

Biarritz haven’t been the dominant force they once were for some time now, but they will still have been disappointed to have lost their opening home fixture, even if it was against the might of Clermont. Les Jaunards sealed a 22-18 victory.

Stade and Biarritz may not harbour realistic ambitions of challenging for the title, but Toulouse will. They are a proud club and the current trophy drought is not something that will sit easily with them. The team currently in possession of the trophy – Castres – were brought back down to earth by Perpignan who secured a 29-23 win over the champions. A late try from new fly-half Camille Lopez, converted by James Hook, did the damage for the Catalan club.

Elsewhere in the league Bayonne impressed with a bonus point win (39-11) over new boys Oyannax, who look to have a lot of work to do if they are going to survive a season in this division. There were familiar faces on show at Stade Marcel Deflandre as Johnny Sexton, Dan Lydiate and Soane Tonga-uiha all made their first competitive starts for Racing Metro. Sexton’s 10 points were decisive as they snuck past recently-promoted Brive 19-14.

The opening fixture on Friday night saw two team with title ambitions, Toulon and Montpellier, stutter to a 22-22 draw. Montpellier were the more impressive of the two sides, with François Trinh-Duc particularly excellent – until, of course, he threw the intercept pass late on that saw his side squander what would have been a vital victory. Toulon seem to have found that knack of coming away with something when not playing well – certainly a a hallmark of many a championship winning side. With the talent at their disposal (Juan Smith is apparently arriving for a medical this week – because they didn’t have enough talent in the back-row already) there is no doubt they will be at the right end of the table come the end of the season.

Round 1 results:
Montpellier 22-22 Toulon
Biarritz 18-22 Clermont
Bayonne 39-11 Oyannax
Bordeaux 31-25 Toulouse
Grenoble 19-16 Stade Francais
Racing Metro 19-14 Brive
Perpignan 26-23 Castres

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

Picture: Patrick Khachfe/Onside Images