Preview: Top 14, Round One

Date published: August 16 2014

The longest, most expensive championship in rugby gets back underway this weekend, as everyone tries to dethrone champions Toulon.

The longest, most expensive championship in rugby gets back underway this weekend, with a host of eye-catching encounters as everyone tries to catch Toulon.

Newcomers Lyon and La Rochelle are both on the road to start their campaigns, while there are clashes between top six contenders Castres and Stade Français and Montpellier and Racing Métro to set the tone for the campaign.

Clermont v Grenoble

Clermont finished last season looking like a team on the decline, hammered by Saracens in a Heineken Cup semi-final before losing their 77-game unbeaten home streak to Castres in the Top 14 play-offs.

Over the off-season Vern Cotter has moved on after eight seasons, with the general feeling being the club deserved to win a lot more than one Top 14 title and an Amlin Cup during that time.

Franck Azéma was given the task of rebuilding the squad, with the help of former Leinster coach Jono Gibbes, and the signs are there that Clermont are not done yet.

Camille Lopez has been turning heads in pre-season, while a rejuvenated S̩bastien Vahaamahina has the potential to be the equal of any second row in the league, especially under the tutelage of Jamie Cudmore Рa phrase that hasn't been used too often!

This weekend they will open up against Grenoble, who have enjoyed a profitable off-season of their own. A trip to Argentina to take on the Pumas appears to have been a fruitful experience, and if last weekend's win over Harlequins was anything to go by, we might see a more entertaining Grenoble side this year.

Gio Aplon is probably the biggest name signing, and will no doubt wreak havoc with his elusive running, but Jonathan Wisniewski could be even more influential as he gets his career back on track after stalling in the last couple of years at Racing.

Clermont: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 Zac Guildford, 13 Aurelien Rougerie, 12 Noa Nakaitaci, 11 Julien Malzieu, 10 Brock James, 9 Ludovic Radosavljevic, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Julien Bardy, 6 Damien Chouly (c), 5 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 4 Jamie Cudmore, 3 Clement Ric, 2 Ti'i Paulo, 1 Vincent Debaty
Replacements: 16 Thomas Domingo, 17 Benjamin Kayser, 18 Loic Jacquet, 19 Julien Bonnaire, 20 Morgan Parra, 21 Camille Lopez, 22 Wesley Fofana, 23 Daniel Kotze

Grenoble: 15 Fabien Gengenbacher (c), 14 Alipate Ratini, 13 Jackson Willison, 12 Nigel Hunt, 11 Gio Aplon, 10 Jonathan Wisniewski, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Rory Grice, 7 Henry Vanderglas, 6 Fabien Alexandre, 5 Ben Hand, 4 Hendrik Roodt, 3 Dayna Edwards, 2 Arnaud Héguy, 1 Alexandre Dardet
Replacements: 16 Albertus Buckle, 17 Anthony Hegarty, 18 Richard Choirat, 19 Ross Skeate, 20 Florian Faure, 21 Joannes Henry, 22 Julien Caminati, 23 Benjamin Thiéry

Date: Saturday, August 16
Venue: Stade Marcel Michelin
Kick-off: 14.45 local (13.45 GMT)
Referee: Cyril Lafon
Assistant referees: Adrien Descottes, Bruno Gabaldon

Bordeaux-Bègles v Lyon

In their first stint in the Top 14, Lyon were a massive disappointment, finishing dead last and 17 points away from safety.

That was in 2011/12, and the team who had earned promotion alongside them that campaign were Bordeaux, who have been in the Top 14 ever since.

Now Lyon are back they will open their season up at the Stade André Moga and they should quickly get an idea of how far they still have to go.

Tim Lane and his coaching staff appear to have recruited wisely, with many players with Top 14 experience, including former French internationals Fabrice Estebanez and Julien Puricelli, while Wallaby legend George Smith should be a great signing.

But they face a Bordeaux side last year who were one win away from making the play-offs and look to be improving each season.

French winger Sofiane Guitoune seems to be fully recovered from a torn Achilles he suffered last year, meaning that he should make his debut after a switch from Perpignan, while lock Julien Le Devedec also looks like a shrewd recruit from Brive.

It's difficult to imagine Lyon getting a win to get their campaign underway, but two years ago Bordeaux were shocked by promoted side Grenoble on home soil, so it's not impossible.

Bordeaux: 15 Darly Domvo, 14 Sofiane Guitoune, 13 Julien Rey, 12 Thibaut Lacroix, 11 Blair Connor, 10 Pierre Bernard, 9 Heini Adams, 8 Matthew Clarkin (c), 7 Hugh Chalmers, 6 Louis-Benoit Madaule, 5 Adam Jaulhac, 4 Julien Le Devedec, 3 Patrick Toetu, 2 Clement Maynadier, 1 Jefferson Poirot.
Replacements:16 Benat Auzqui, 17 Jean-Baptiste Poux, 18 Jandre Marais, 19 Taisina Tuifua, 20 Baptiste Serin, 21 Lionel Beauxis, 22 Romain Lonca, 23 Francisco Gomez Kodela.

Lyon: 15 Romain Loursac, 14 Toby Arnold, 13 Kendrick Lynn, 12 Fabrice Estebanez, 11 Mosese Ratuvou, 10 Stephen Brett, 9 Ricky Januarie, 8 George Smith, 7 Pierrick Gunther, 6 Julien Puricelli, 5 Lionel Nallet (c), 4 Bjorn Basson, 3 Anthony Roux, 2 Vincent Colliat, 1 Wian Du Preez.
Replacements:16 Deon Fourie, 17 Bogdan Balan, 18 Joseph Tuineau, 19 Frans Viljoen, 20 Waisele Sukanaveita, 21 Paul Bonnefond, 22 Lachie Munro, 23 Horatiu Pungea.

Date: Saturday, August 16
Venue: Stade Andre Moga
Kick-off: 18.30 local (17.30 GMT)
Referee: Pascal Gauzère
Assistant referees: Christophe Dutreuilh, Eric Soulan