CASTRES, FRANCE – This lovely city is currently the home of the the Bouclier de Brennus, or Brennus Shield, the championship trophy of the French 14 Rugby competition. With the new season kickoff last weekend, now was the perfect time for the French Top 14 Rugby Preview. Below is the order we see the teams finishing along with the personnel changes:
1) RC Toulonnais
In: Emmanuel Felsina, Martin Castrogiovanni, Benjamin Noirot, Ali Williams, Facundo Isa, Michael Claassens, Bryan Habana, Drew Mitchell
Out: Gethin Jenkins, Davit Kubriashvili, Mickaël Ivaldi, Simon Shaw, Romain Manchia, Etienne Herjean, Geoffroy Messina, Benjamin Lapeyre
Analysis: They are the leader in the arms race of buying great players. It is a team of mercernaries for sure but they are the damn good caliber. They have replaced key names with bigger names. They have more than enough talent to see them through the season. Only problem is the loss of fringe French players limits the number of non-french players they can add for the rest of the season.
2) ASM Clermont Auvergne
In: Thierry Lacrampe, Gavin Hume
Out: Kevin Boudot, Mike Corbel, Anthony Maury, Jean-Charles Fidinde, Baptiste Hézard, Cameron Pierce, Loann Goujon, Viktor Kolelishvili, Hugues Bastide, Kevin Senio, Nicolas Vuillemin, David Skrela, Alexandre Mourot, Pierre Santalier, Kini Murimurivalu, Anthony Floch
Analysis: They have not finished out the top4 in a few years and have won it all before. There are questions around their mental frailty after last season. It will be tested with head coach Vern Cotter announced as the new Scotland coach as soon as the Top 14 season is over. They won’t be found wanting during the regular season though, so they will safely make playoffs.
3) Montpellier HR
In: Nicolas Mas, Mickaël Ivaldi, Thomas Bianchin, Sitaleki Timani, Robins Tchale-Watchou, Jim Hamilton,
Jonathan Pélissié, Wynand Olivier, JP du Plessis, Hamish Gard, Anthony Tuitavake, Rene Ranger,
Lucas Dupont, Anthony Floch
Out: Giorgi Jgenti, Kevin Kervarec, Wilfried Hounkpatin, Vincent Pelo, Fabien Dorey, Agustin Creevy, Rassie van Vuuren, Mickaël Ladhuie, Drikus Hancke, Aliki Fakate, Rémy Martin, Julien Tomas, Santiago Fernandez, Paul Bosch, Taleta Tupuola, Shontayne Hape, Matthew Carraro, Martin Bustos Moyano, Lucas González Amorosino, Benjamin Thiery
Analysis: They have arguably the best French coach in the Top 14 in Fabien Gulthie. They have added some more international steel to their style of play. They partly faded late last year, due the lack of depth and the death of an assistant coach to cancer, emotionally wrecked them. They will be in the race for a while.
4) Racing Métro 92
In: Soane Tonga’uiha, Brian Mujati, Walter Desmaison, Davit Khinchagishvili, Virgile Lacombe, Juandré Kruger, Wenceslas Lauret, Dan Lydiate, Laurent Magnaval, Jonathan Sexton, Jamie Roberts, Marc Andreu, Adrien Planté, Benjamin Lapeyre
Out: Benjamin Sa, Juan Pablo Orlandi, Andrea Lo Cicero, Mikaele Tuugahala, Thomas Bianchin, Benjamin Noirot, Santiago Dellapè, Julien Côme, Álvaro Galindo, Johnny Leo’o, Mathieu Bélie, Olly Barkley, Guillaume Boussès, Mirco Bergamasco, Albert VuliVuli, Julien Jane, Julien Saubade, Sireli Bobo, Gaëtan Germain
Analysis: They are the newest team with a rich sugar daddy hoovering up talent all over the globe. This includes Castres’ championship coaching duo from last year. They will have a good but not great season. Too much change to really gel and have the necessary trust when things get tight. Similar to Toulon in their first big money season.
In: Chiliboy Ralepelle, Iosefa Tekori, Yacouba Camara, Jano Vermaak, Jean-Pascal Barraque, Hosea Gear
Out: Jean Baptiste Poux, Gary Botha, William Servat, Cyril Deligny, Russlan Boukerou, Jean Bouilhou, Karl Château, Sylvain Nicolas, Luke Burgess, Yannick Jauzion, Maxime Payen
Analysis: Old Reliable. Head coach Guy Noves has been with Toulouse as a player and coach for what feels like eons. The club has the pedigree and history to lean on in rough times. They do a great job of getting palyers that fit mentally and rugby wise into the Toulouse way. You will see them come playoff time and they are often the last team anyone wants to face with the season on the line.
6) Stade Français
In: Heinke van der Merwe, Sakaria Taulafo, Davit Kubriashvili, Sylvain Nicolas, Richard Kingi, Morné Steyn, Meyer Bosman, Andrea Cocagi, Digby Ioane, Marty Ioane
Out: Tetaz Chaparro, Stan Wright, Jérémy Bécasseau, Lei Tomiki, Arthur Chollon, Nicolas Bezy, Felipe Contepomi, Paul Warwick, Morgan Turinui, Gavin Williams, Paul Sackey, Francis Fainifo
Analysis: Once the toast of rugby with their calendars and jerseys, the club forgot that the sizzle is meaningless unless the steak is great. The have declared their ambition to get back to the playoffs for the last two seasons. This season they accomplish their goal.
7) Castres Olympique
In:George Marich, Richie Gray, Julien Tomas, Cédric Garcia, Santiago Fernandez, Rémy Grosso, Geoffrey Palis,
Out:Adrien Pélissié, Iosefa Tekori, Matthias Rolland, Wessel Jooste, Thierry Lacrampe, Pierre Bernard, Thomas Sanchou, Florian Vialelle, Marc Andreu, Brice Trevisan,
Analysis: This maybe a tough rating but let us not forget that Castres came from out of wilderness last season to win it. So just missing the playoffs is not that bad especially after losing their co-head coaching tandem, the Two Laurents, Laurent Labit and Laurent Travers to Racing Metro. They won it last season as they are a deep rooted family atmosphere club. This will serve them well as they re-build.
8) USA Perpignan
In: Paulica Ion, Giorgi Jgenti, Justin Purll, Karl Château, Dewaldt Duvenage, Camille Lopez, Tommaso Allan, Tommaso Benvenuti, Watisoni Votu, Wandile Mjekevu
Out: Nicolas Mas, Jérôme Schuster, Jérémy Castex, Maxime Delonca, Robins Tchale-Watchou, Yohan Vivalda,
Romain Bézian, Gilles Arnaudiès, Henry Tuilagi, David Mélé, Gilles Bosch, Gavin Hume, Fabrice Catala
Adrien Planté, Armand Battle, Farid Sid
Analysis: Trying to climb up the ladder of mediocrity when you don’t have the bucks to play with the big boys is tough. Over the years they have seen some of their great talent sign for bigger clubs and have had to be more resourceful in their recruiting. It will serve them well in another few seasons just not right now. on a sidenote, after the Amlin Cup semi-final match’s kicks at goal controversy, they should invest the money in taller goal posts.
9) Aviron Bayonnais
In: Gert Muller, JC Janse van Rensburg, Lisiate Fa’aoso, Jean Monribot, Opeti Fonua, Mathieu Bélie, Stephen Brett , Saimoni Vaka , Martin Bustos Moyano
Out:Renaud Boyoud, Walter Desmaison, Matt Graham, Rob Linde, François Carillo, Marc Baget, Cédric Garcia, Benjamin Boyet, Jacques-Louis Potgieter, Thibault Lacroix, Lionel Mazars, Thibault Visensang, Cédric Heymans
Analysis: Bayonne is taking the slow and steady approach. They were promoted a few seasons back and have looked to improve each season. This will push them toward finishing this season in the top 10. They struggled to score tries last season but the new imports hopefully will improve the try total. They will take the profits from this and re-invest in next year and move up a spot or two.
10) Biarritz Olympique
In: Alexandre Menini, Joshua Furno, Addison Lockley, Ueleni Fono, Daniel Waenga, Giovanni Cipriani, Paul Perez, Joe Pietersen
Out: Benoit August, Jerome Thion, Wenceslas Lauret, Talalelei Gray, Jean-Pascal Barraque, Marcelo Bosch, Dane Haylett-Petty
Analysis: They have fallen on hard times and are no longer the powerhouse they once were. The key for them is that they are aware of this. Patience has settled in and they are trying to do more with less. This change in mindset won’t show in this season but hopefully it will in time. Their diehard Basque fan base will be patient as long as they defeat Bayonne.
11) FC Grenoble
In: Dan Palmer, Richard Choirat, Hendrik Roodt, Peter Kimlin, Cédric Béal, Nicolas Bézy, Mathieu Lorée, Olly Barkley, Geoffroy Messina, Ratu Alipate Raitini, Julien Caminati, Benjamin Thiery
Out: Erwan Iaptef, Ruaan du Preez, Lotu Tokeihao, Karim Kouider, Florent Fourcade, Alexandre Pollard, Jonathan Pélissié, Clément Darbo, Nicolas Laharrague, Aloisio Butonidualevu, Aaron Bancroft, Lucas Dupont, Viliame Waqaseduadua, Joaquin Tuculet, Pierre-Yves Montagnat
Analysis: Last year Grenoble accomplished mission one of a recently promoted club. Stay up at all costs. Now the pressure will be on them to avoid the drop again and move forward in the slightest manner possible, in order to give fans hope. They will just barely do that.
12) US Oyonnax
In: Erwan Iaptef, Ruaan du Preez, Neil Clark, Damian Browne, Damien Lagrange, Viliami Ma’afu, Fabien Cibray, Agustin Figuerola, Nicolas Vuillemin, Conrad Barnard, Pierre Aguillon, Guillaume Bousses, Dug Codjo, Jean-François Coux, Silvère Tian
Out: Yann Resseguier, Jan Volschenk, Cyril Blanchard, Valeni Tiatia, Fabien Laurent, Quentin Witt, Julien Audy, Etienne Ninet, Antoine Renaud, Romain Boscus, Jean-Emmanuel Cassin, Lole Tualaulelei, Jérémy Aicardi, Quentin Nauroy
Analysis: All instincts indicate that a team this small from such an unknown area of French will return to D2. However, that is why we play this game on the pitch and not on paper. Lets not forget that they scored 111 tries last season and won D2 with 17 points to spare. D2 players jettisoned and new players added means there will be pressure. RWU squad has fingered crossed for out underdog team of the season to avoid the drop.
13) CA Brive
In: Kevin Buys, Tamato Leupolu, Karlen Asieshvili, Simon Pinet, Fabien Laurent, Kieran Murphy, Sisa Koyamaibole, Damien Neveu, Thomas Sanchou, Andrew Ma’ilei, Alfi Mafi, Venione Voretamaya, Gaëtan Germain
Out: Davit Khinchagishvili, Irakli Natriashvili, Alexandre Barozzi, Pablo Henn, Pat Barnard, Quentin Viozelange,Retief Uys, Simon Azoulai, Poutasi Luafutu, Mike Blair, Benjamin Caminati, Jamie Noon, Yann Fior, Jacques Boussuge, Julien Caminati, Léo Griffoul
Analysis: It just ain’t happening they have too big a mountain to club. They were able to use heart, will and determination to make it out of Pro D2 into the Top 14. However, all of that intangible stuff will eventually be no match for the talent and speed that they will face in Top 14.
14) Union Bordeaux-Bègles
In: Jean-Baptiste Poux, Benjamin Sa, Clément Maynadier, Beñat Auzqui, Jean-Charles Fidinde, Aliki Fakate,
Matt Graham, Jandré Marais, Jean-Blaise Lespinasse, Marco Tauleigne, Taiasina Tuifua, Poutasi Luafutu,
Pierre Bernard, Romain Lonca, Thibault Lacroix, Gilen Queheille, Robert Lilomaiava, Jean-Baptiste Peyras-Loustalet
Out: Hikairo Forbes, Tamato Leupolu, Nicolas Decamps, Yassin Boutemane, Franck Labbé, Stephane Fort,François Tisseau, Andrew Chauveau, Justin Purll, Damien Larrieu, Julien Seron, Camille Lopez, Andrew Ma’ilei, Michel Denetre, Avenisi Vasuinubu, Thierry Brana, Lachie Munro
Analysis: A lot was hoped from this feel good side of last year. Though they managed to avoid the drop last year, they won’t this year. The difference being the amount of French players they sign that are unable to get starts at other clubs because they are not first option. The luck runs out on this idea and they eventually just get a collection of journeymen not quite up to the journey.
PLAYOFFS (projected winners in bold)
3)Montpellier v 6) Stade Français
4) Racing Métro 92 v 5) Stade Toulousain
2) ASM Clermont Auvergne v 3) Montpellier Hérault Rugby
1) Rugby Club Toulonnais v 5) Stade Toulousain
2) ASM Clermont Auvergne v 5) Stade Toulousain
Association Sportive Montferrandaise Clermont Auvergne will be the new champions of France and send Coach Cotter out on a high note.
That is it for now, feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter @RugbyWrapUp, @JunoirBlaber, @Declan Yeats, @ckuxmann and @Ebstide52, respectively. And until the next time… stay low and keep pumping those legs.