Early Season Pointless Stat Alert: After just two games, no team in France’s Top 14 has a perfect record – of any kind.
Toulon sit pretty at the head of table with a draw and a bonus-point win, while Montpellier find themselves at the bottom looking up, having started their season with a draw and a defeat. As for everyone else… it’s won one, lost one. So, the question is, which sides are likely to open up an early gap on their rivals?
Stade really need Friday night to be all right, as they welcome Biarritz to their new-look Stade Jean Bouin, a ground they haven’t played at since 2010.
Fans of the Parisian side haven’t had much to cheer about in recent seasons, but a summer of serious team and stadium rebuilding means there’s a new expectation around the club that may – if lovingly nurtured – turn into something special. Biarritz recovered from a stomach-wrenchingly narrow defeat on the opening day of the season to win last weekend – but expect the new Stade buzz to be too much for the Basque outfit.
No side ever looks forward to facing Clermont at Stade Marcel Michelin, but Toulouse have a chance to sneak what may turn out to be a valuable away win. Clermont were well-and-truly mugged by the Top 14’s new boys Oyonnax last time out, and look a shadow of the side that reached last season’s Heineken Cup final and finished the regular domestic season at the top of the table. To make matters worse for Vern Cotter’s side, there are doubts over the fitness of game-changers Morgan Parra and Wesley Forfana.
There may be similar trouble ahead for Grenoble. They shipped five tries last week at Castres Olympique without crossing the line themselves, which is hardly the perfect preparation for a match against Toulon. Grenoble will be without the services of former Toulon centre Geoffrey Messina, while the visitors are expecting to unleash a certain Bryan Habana, who’s set to join his new club during a break from the southern hemisphere’s Rugby Championship.
Bordeaux’s new signing Pierre Barnard, however, is likely to have an early season reunion with his former clubmates at Castres Olympique. The champions of France have started the season playing some Toulon-esque free-flowing attacking rugby. It will take something very special indeed for the hosts to stop them in their tracks.
A home match against one-dimensional Brive is probably what Montpellier’s doctor would have ordered to help the medicine of the Herault side’s unfortunate start to the season go down. It’s not as if Fabien Gaulthie’s team have played badly, and there’s plenty of time to right the wrongs of the opening two games, but they need to win convincingly this weekend – if only to remember what it feels like.
Racing Metro also need a morale-boosting win against Oyonnax. Last week, their expensively assembled, star-studded side were made to look very ordinary by a Toulon side that played devastatingly effective rugby from the first whistle to the last. Before the season started, Racing fans probably saw this game as an easy five-pointer. But that result against Toulon, and the visitors shock 30-19 win over Clermont means this encounter has become much more difficult.
Perpignan’s James Hook’s power and accuracy with the boot should mean that USAP will come away from Bayonne with a win under their belts. Unless, that is, they come up against the side that played such exciting running rugby in the opening game of the season. That game was probably just a blip, though. Bayonne aren’t known for their attacking flair.
By James Harrington (@blackmountained)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images