Top 14 Preview: Come On, Feel The Pain

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Wian Du Preez leaves the field injured during Lyon's opening Top 14 game of the season
Wian Du Preez leaves the field injured during Lyon’s opening Top 14 game of the season
CASTRES, FRANCE – If Lyon didn’t realise just how tough the Top 14 was going to be before their season started last Saturday, they do now.

They are already scouring the rugby hinterlands for medical jokers to provide cover for prop Wian Du Preez and flanker Pierrick Gunther, who are due to have operations on Monday to repair a ruptured left achilles tendon and ruptured anterior ligaments respectively. Both players, who only joined the club during the brief close season are expected to be out of action for six months.

For a while, it looked like the deep-pocketed Top 14 side were in the running for the signature of a certain Adam Jones, but he has this week… finally… committed his future to Cardiff Blues – and has written a letter to Ospreys fans to tell them all about it.

It’s a long way from perfect preparation for their second match in France’s top flight, against Stade Francais at Stade Jean Bouin – which is not the place to go for any side looking for their first points in the championship.

Lyon gave a decent account of themselves in a tryless 18-9 defeat at Bordeaux last week, but will have to find a sharper attacking edge if they’re going to head home from Paris on Saturday night with any points in the bag.

This is what it feels like to win a Top 14 match in the dying seconds
This is what it feels like to win a Top 14 match in the dying seconds
The news is better for the hosts. They came out of their opening game – a last-gasp 25-22 win in Beziers over a displaced and out-of-sorts Castres – with no notable injuries and on Sunday welcomed new arrival Hugh Pyle from Melbourne Rebels.

Montpellier are also counting the cost of the opening weekend. Prop David Attoub ruptured a tendon in his bicep against Racing Metro last weekend and will be out for between four and five months.

Worse for the Herault side, hooker Charles Geli, who was sent off for throwing a few punches at the end of a niggly first half, has been suspended pending a disciplinary hearing on September 3. The two clubs, too, have been summoned to explain the behaviour of their players.

But they will have taken heart from their second-half performance last Saturday. The 14 men of Montpellier gave Racing a real scare before Jonny Sexton settled nerves with a late penalty.

Montpellier had a tough Top 14 opener against Racing Metro last Saturday
Montpellier had a tough Top 14 opener against Racing Metro last Saturday
Montpellier should prove too much for Grenoble this weekend – even though Bernard Jackman’s tough-tackling Isere side gave Clermont a run for their money at Stade Marcel Michelin last weekend.

Speaking of Racing Metro, rumours are circulating in the French press that last season’s big-money signing Sexton will turn his back on the option in his contract for a one-year extension and will head back to Leinster to prepare for the World Cup in 2015 when his contract with the Paris bluebloods comes to an end.

Meanwhile, new signing Luke Charteris may be out for up to six weeks with a foot injury. The ciel-et-bleu are at Bordeaux, where their mean defence will have to be at its best against a free-scoring side desperate to make up for last week’s try-fast.

Is Jonny Sexton ready to turn his back on Top 14 side Racing Metro?
Is Jonny Sexton ready to turn his back on Top 14 side Racing Metro?
But Raphael Ibanez’s Gironde outfit have injury concerns of their own. Prop Francisco Gomez Kodela will be absent for three weeks after fracturing his hand against Lyon last Saturday.

Kodela’s injury has given Ibanez a selection headache. With Benjamin Sa still recovering from a shoulder injury, he may be forced to field one of two up-and-coming youngsters in Georgian Zaza Navrozahvili or Civil Xerom to supplement Patrick Toetu.

The consensus of opinion among the rugby cognescenti in France is that he may even move veteran Jean-Baptiste Poux to his least-favoured side of the front row.

The selection situation is worse for Bayonne’s new coach Patricio Noriega. After last week’s season-opening defeat at home to Toulon, he would have been banking on a more straightforward home game against Oyonnax.

That was before Martin Bustos Moyano picked up a knee injury that will keep him out for four weeks, while veteran centre Joe Rokocoko and Jean Monribot are also doubts this week having picked up knocks against the Var side last Friday. All this and Gabiriele Lovobalavu, too, whose fractured forearm will keep him out of action for four months.

Oyonnax, meanwhile, are still cursing the referee in charge of their opening-day defeat at Toulouse. Coach Christophe Urios believes that debutant ref Mr Chalon “lacked the courage” to penalise the host’s international flanker Yannick Nyanga for putting his hands in the ruck at the death. Had he done so, Benjamin Urdapilleta would have had a shot at goal to win the game.

That said, injuries to those key Bayonne players may just give the visitors the edge…

Out... Clermont's Clement Ric picked up an injury in last weekend's exciting Top 14 win over Grenoble
Out… Clermont’s Clement Ric picked up an injury in last weekend’s exciting Top 14 win over Grenoble
Another prop, Clement Ric, who scored Clermont’s first try of the new season, will be absent for “several” weeks, according to the club, with a foot injury, while centre Nakaitaci Noa is out for three weeks with a sprained ankle, and concussion protocols mean Julien Malzieu will miss this weekend’s game.

On the plus side for the Jaunards, Pierre, Kayser, Lacrampe and Davies have all been declared fit to play.

They’re away at surprise Top 14 leaders Brive. It could be an interesting game as the hosts found some attacking flair last weekend, scoring four tries – an eighth of the 32 they managed in the whole of the 2013/14 season.

Toulon haven’t escaped the early season injury plague. Freddie Michalak and Leigh Halfpenny, who both missed last Friday’s opening night, are still uncertain to start against La Rochelle, as is Marmuke “Gorgodzilla”. All three missed training earlier in the week.

But the Top 14 weekend opens with the Midi Pyrenees derby between Toulouse and Castres at Stade Ernest Wallon. Defensive errors at the death cost the visitors dearly last weekend. They will have worked hard on their tackling and discipline this week, but – like many other sides – their biggest worry is an ever-increasing injury list. Talisman Rodrigo Capo-Ortega is a doubt, but is being given as much time as possible to recover from an arm injury before a decision on whether he will play is made.

The Tarn side are without key quartet Sitiveni Sivivatu, Benjamin Desroches, Yannick Forestier and Karena Wihongi – though they are likely to welcome back lock Richie Gray.

Toulouse coach Guy Noves
Toulouse coach Guy Noves
Toulouse are likely to select new arrivals, hooker Corey Flynn and prop Kisi Pulu for the match. Pulu has arrived in the Haute-Garonne as a medical joker for Schalk Ferreira. On the plus side for the hosts, Florian Fritz, Maxime Medard and Gillian Galan are all back – though coach Guy Noves has said he will not take any risks with the fitness of Yoann Maestri, Thierry Dusautoir, or Luke McAlister. Though, with Toby Flood in rare form last week, the absence of even McAlister doesn’t seem to be a huge loss.

That’s it for now. Feel free to comment below, please look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@ :RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Jamie Wall, Jaime Loyd, DJ Eberle, Cody Kuxmann, Karen Ritter, Jake Frechette and Declan Yeats, respectively.

About James Harrington 196 Articles
James Harrington... Before injury brought his rugby career to a timely end, journalist James was equally useless whether he packed down in the second row or at number 8, positions in which he represented his school and university with indistinction. The prolific one now lives in France with his journalist wife and three children and watches as much Top 14, European and international action he thinks he can get away with; justifying his obsession by claiming: "But it's all work, Honey!"