What a week it has been for rugby! From the appointment of Warren Gatland last week to the hand grenade announcement of BT toppling Sky and ESPN’s hegemony of Rugby coverage in the UK, we have all been left with some uncertainty that needs answering.
France, or better said, British-French relations has been a prominent topic for pub chat this week. At first, it would probably have been better that it remained just pub chat: after the announcement that Bernard Laporte would not release any potential Lions players before the Top 14 final, it was in danger of becoming the biggest non-story of the season. Yet, it was deemed worthy of a news story across the Rugby press. Luke McAllister announced he likes coffee on Twitter recently which would seem a worthy competitor for column space.
Yet, as I despaired at such an obvious announcement, the non-story suddenly turned creditable and gained some much -eeded substance when it was revealed that IRB Law 9 stipulates clearly that Clubs are obliged to release players in time for their departure. This could see the metaphorical boxing gloves be officially strapped to Bernard Laporte’s hands in a scrap that could turn ugly if Gatland decides to loot some of Toulon’s players for Australia.
Another story of international unrest at Toulon emerged as if to add a spray of lighter fluid to an already raging flame, when Bakkies Botha was put on stand-by for the Springboks after Eben Etzebeth was suspended for head butting. Rumours emerged that Toulon would block Botha playing for his country, but Botha rubbished such rumours on Twitter. As it turns out he was only on stand-by, and was never going to leave France.
As for the Top 14 action last week, there were no great surprises. Biarittz put concrete around their position at the top of the table with a home win over Montpellier. Mont-de-Marsan look like they will be playing rugby in Pro D2 next season despite this year still only being in its infancy after they were obliterated by probable relegation scrappers Grenoble. Clermont squeezed passed Racing at home and Perpignan got off the mark with their first win over Bayonne.
Perpignan’s win sets up the big match of the weekend between Perpignan and Toulouse in the heart of Catalonia, Barcelona. I am going to tip Perpignan for the win here, only on the overwhelming home support that Perpignan will have. Castres and Montpellier will host the other two big clashes of the weekend against Biarritz and Toulon respectively. I am going go for two away wins as I feel Toulon will have too much firepower for a depleted Montpellier side and Biarritz are the form team in the Top 14.
My SuperBru Predictions for Round 5 of the Top 14:
Montpellier v Toulon: Toulon by 7
Perpignan v Toulouse: Perpignan by 2
Mont-de-Marsan v Clermont Auvergne: Clermont by 30
Castres v Biarritz: Biarritz by 3
Bayonne v Racing: Bayonne by 3
Agen v Grenoble: Grenoble by 2
Bordeaux Begles v Stade Francais: Bordeaux by 4.
By Mike Dolan