This weekend, rugby addicts will be able to enjoy the rare splendour of action from the Aviva Premiership, the RaboDirect Pro12, The Rugby Championship and the Top 14, not to mention the Currie Cup and ITM Cupmas well.
Refereeing and the Lions are the hot topics this week across the channel. Serge Simon, former French international prop and president of the ‘Provale’ (France’s equivalent of the ‘Rugby Players Association’) has emerged as a naysayer of the officiating at scrums in the Top 14. Simon with terse assertiveness said that despite the call changes: “we are returning to what was happening before, where the referees are destroying games through their refereeing at scrums”.
Warren Gatland arrived in France today (Wednesday) to discuss the subtleties of his selection policies for the Lions with the considerable British contingent plying their trade in the Top 14. No doubt the likes of Luke Charteris, Lee Byrne, Mike Blair, James Hook, Gethen Jenkins and the rest of the mercenary force at the Stade Mayol with Toulon will be addressed. Gatland has said that with the Top 14 final taking place on the same day as the Lions play the Barbarians in Hong Kong, preparation is so tight. If it means players aren’t available to get on the plane, it may rule them out.
But, Gatland also added that “You don’t want to cut your nose off to spite your face in terms of making those players unavailable if they are really, really important to you,”.
As for last week’s Top 14 action, Biarritz went top of the table after they defeated champions Toulouse at the Parc des Sports Aguilera in Biarritz. Young Biarritz fly-half Jean Pascal Barraque has become the subject of attention in recent weeks with his strong performances, and with only one unsuccessful attempt at goal against Toulouse in front of Phillipe Saint-Andre, the 21 year old outside half will have done his chances of an international call up a world of good. Especially when you consider that had opposite number Lionel Beauxis made more his kicks at goal, Toulouse would have won.
Clermont Auvergne condemned Perpignan to a third straight defeat. Seemingly unhappy to allow that game at Twickenham to grab all the headlines, the two French powerhouses played out an entertaining 53-31 score line. Elsewhere, Grenoble showed why they will be a tough team to crack at home, as they beat soft capital city boys Stade Francais. The weather conditions in one of France’s winter capitals could perhaps be a mitigating factor in the final ‘Classement’ of the season.
This week, I am going to go for a clean sweep of home wins. Biarittz, Stade, Perpignan, Toulon, Toulouse and Clermont are all at home, whilst Grenoble will also fancy their chances at home to lowly Mont-de Marsan. The big team news of the weekend comes from the Mayol where Freddie Michalak is set to make his first start for Toulon at home to Bordeaux.
Superbru picks for round 4:
Biarritz v Montpellier. Biarritz by 6
Grenoble v Mont-de-Marsan. Grenoble by 7
Perpignan v Bayonne. Perpignan by 4
Toulouse v Agen. Toulouse by 15
Stade Francais v Castres. Stade by 3
Toulon v Bordeaux. Toulon by 15
Clermont Auvergne v Racing Metro. Clermont by 10
by Mike Dolan