Top 14 Preview: Round 1

Date published: August 19 2016

If the Top 14 feels like it’s never been away, that’s because it’s been less than two months since Racing 92 pulled off the extraordinary with victory over Toulon in Barcelona.

In fact so short has the off-season been that Lyon were already back in pre-season training before that Catalan climax.

The Pro D2 champions will kick off their campaign in a Saturday evening bumper offering, at home to Brive.

The glamour tie on the opening evening however, will be in Toulouse, who host Montpellier, while the defending champions travel to Bordeaux for another tantalising encounter.

2015 champions Stade Français have a rare home match to start their season, welcoming Bernard Jackman’s Grenoble to town while Clermont travel to La Rochelle.

The final game on Saturday evening sees Castres host ambitious Pau, before Bayonne, back in the big time, bring down the curtain on the weekend’s action with a tough home game against Toulon.


Stade Français v Grenoble
Lyon v Brive
Toulouse v Montpellier
Bordeaux-Bègles v Racing 92
Castres v Pau
La Rochelle v Clermont


Bayonne v Toulon

Stade Français v Grenoble
Stade Jean Bouin, Paris

Stade Français president Thomas Savare is nowhere near as outspoken as some of his Top 14 counterparts but he made clear that last season’s failure to even challenge for a play-off spot was not good enough.

With that in mind, there is a lot of pressure on the Parisians to turn things around, and they will have to do so with minimal recruitment.

In fact Alipate Ratini is the only new addition, and he could face the team where he made his name.

The Fijian flyer was a star for Grenoble two seasons ago before losing his way, but the team from the Alps won’t be too worried about travelling to Paris.

They have had plenty of success in the capital in recent seasons and can count on some canny signings like Connacht second-row Aly Muldowney and potential game breaker Sisi Waqa in their ranks.

The teams:

Stade Français: 15 Hugo Bonneval, 14 Ratu Ratini, 13 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 12 Paul Williams, 11 Waisea Nayacalevu, 10 Jules Plisson, 9 Julien Dupuy, 8 Sergio Parisse, 7 Sylvain Nicolas, 6 Antoine Burban, 5 Paul Gabrillagues, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Paul Alo-Emile, 2 Laurent Sempere, 1 Sakaria Taulafo
Replacements: 16 Remy Bonfils, 17 Zurabi Zhvania, 18 Alexandre Flanquart, 19 Willem Alberts, 20 Clement Daguin, 21 Meyer Bosman, 22 Jeremy Sinzelle, 23 Rabah Slimani

Grenoble: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Lucas Dupont, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Fabrice Estebanez, 11 Armand Batlle, 10 Gilles Bosch, 9 Lilian Saseras, 8 Dylan Hayes, 7 Peter Kimlin, 6 Jonathan Best, 5 Aly Muldowney, 4 Ben Hand, 3 Ali Oz, 2 Loick Jammes, 1 Sona Taumalolo
Replacements: 16 Laurent Bouchet, 17 Alexandre Dardet, 18 Mathias Marie, 19 Fabien Alexandre, 20 David Mele, 21 Jonathan Wisniewski, 22 Sisa Waqa, 23 Walter Desmaison

Last year’s result: Grenoble won 33-18
Kick-off: 20:45 local (19:45 GMT)
Referee: Laurent Cardona

Lyon v Brive
Matmut Stadium, Lyon

Twice Lyon have been promoted to the Top 14 with big ambitions only to fall flat on their face and finish bottom of the pile.

They are back once again and if their recruitment is anything to go by, surely this year they will stay up.

Starting life at home to Brive is far from the worst way to kick off the season and the likes of Virgile Bruni, Delon Armitage, Freddie Michalak and Théo Belan arrive with a point to prove.

Brive surprised a lot of teams last season however, and are proof that there is still a place for an old school bruising pack in the Top 14.

Talismanic captain Arnaud Méla is back for another year, reuniting with the returning Julien le Devedec, and Nicolas Godignon’s pack will have reserved a warm welcome for Lyon. 

The teams:

Lyon: 15 Delon Armitage, 14 Toby Arnold, 13 Hemani Paea, 12 Theo Belan, 11 Rudi Wulf, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Agustin Figuerola, 8 Carl Fearns, 7 Virgile Bruni, 6 Julien Puricelli, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Taiasina Tuifua, 3 Francisco Gomez Kodela, 2 Mickael Ivaldi, 1 Alexandre Menini
Replacements: 16 Ti'i Paulo, 17 Stephane Clement, 18 Thibault Privat, 19 Maselino Paulino, 20 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 21 Napolioni Nalaga, 22 Julien Bonnaire, 23 David Attoub

Brive: 15 Gaetan Germain, 14 Sevenaia Galala, 13 Arnaud Mignardi, 12 Chris Tuatara-Morrison, 11 Benito Masilevu, 10 Matthieu Ugalde, 9 Teddy Iribaren, 8 Fabien Sanconnie, 7 Poutasi Luafutu, 6 Petrus Gherardus Hauman, 5 Peet Marais, 4 Julien Ledevedec, 3 Damien Jourdain, 2 Guillaume Ribes, 1 Karlen Asieshvili
Replacements: 16 Francois Da Ros, 17 Lucas Pointud, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Said Hireche, 20 Jean-Baptiste Pejoine, 21 Thomas Laranjeira, 22 Benjamin Lapeyre, 23 Patrick-Albert Toetu

Previous result: Lyon won 24-6 in 2014
Kick-off: 20:45 local (19:45 GMT)
Referee: Thomas Charabas

Toulouse v Montpellier
Stade Ernest Wallon, Toulouse

The past against the future? France against South Africa? There are plenty of narratives surrounding this clash in Toulouse as Jake White’s men start life after François Trinh-Duc.

In fairness, Montpellier have held back on the Springbok signings this summer, but still have a very multi-cultural line-up, against a Toulouse team who are in something of a regeneration.

Louis Picamoles and Vincent Clerc have gone, Thierry Dusautoir is heading into his final season and it’s time for Ugo Mola to show that the new guard can be contenders.

There is certainly talent, but recently they have struggled in home clashes with Montpellier, and even without the excellent Jacques du Plessis, the formidable Ciste pack will take some stopping.

The teams:

Toulouse: 15 Yoann Huget, 14 Paul Perez, 13 Florian Fritz, 12 Gael Fickou, 11 Alexis Palisson, 10 Jean Marc Doussain, 9 Sebastien Bezy, 8 Talalelei Gray, 7 Piula Faasalele, 6 Thierry Dusautoir, 5 Richie Gray, 4 Yoann Maestri, 3 Maks van Dyk, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Gurthro Steenkamp
Replacements: 16 Julien Marchand, 17 Cyril Baille, 18 Joe Tekori, 19 Gregory Lamboley, 20 Samuel Marques, 21 Yann David, 22 Sofiane Guitoune, 23 Dorian Aldegheri

Montpellier: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Benjamin Fall, 13 Alexandre Dumoulin, 12 Francois Steyn, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Ben Botica, 9 Nic White, 8 Akapusi Qera, 7 Kelian Galletier, 6 Wian Liebenberg, 5 Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg, 4 Konstantin Mikautadze, 3 Davit Kubriashvili, 2 Bismarck Du Plessis, 1 Mikheil Nariashvili
Replacements: 16 Arno van Wyk, 17 Yvan Watremez, 18 Paul Willemse, 19 Pierre Spies, 20 Cameron Wright, 21 Demetri Catrakilis, 22 Vincent Martin, 23 Gagi Bazadze

Last year’s result: Montpellier won 31-29
Kick-off: 20:45 local (19:45 GMT)
Referee: Mathieu Raynal

Bordeaux-Bègles v Racing 92
Stade Chaban Delmas, Bordeaux

Maxime Machenaud will be absent for the champions, but given they won the title without him for much of the game, that shouldn’t worry them.

The lack of preparation is more of a concern though, with Racing denied much time for pre-season fitness work because of the crazy turnaround.

They travel to a Bordeaux side still looking for a first appearance in the play-offs since returning to the top flight, and given the increased competition, there is no guarantee this will be the year.

Ian Madigan will be given his chance to shine, and between he and Simon Hickey, the fly-half options look good.

The other question is whether Baptiste Serin’s June performances against Argentina will inspire him onto even bigger things. If they do, maybe this will finally be the year for Bordeaux.

The teams:

Bordeaux-Bègles: 15 Jean-Marcellin Buttin, 14 Nans Ducuing, 13 Jean-Baptiste Dubie, 12 Romain Lonca, 11 Blair Connor, 10 Ian Madigan, 9 Yann Lesgourgues, 8 Loann Goujon, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Louis-Benoit Madaule, 5 Jan Andre Marais, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Vadim Cobilas, 2 Ronan Chambord, 1 Sebastien Taofifenua
Replacements: 16 Benat Auzqui, 17 Jefferson Poirot, 18 Cyril Cazeaux, 19 Hugh Chalmers, 20 Baptiste Serin, 21 Lionel Beauxis, 22 Julien Rey, 23 Marc Clerc

Racing 92: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Joe Rokocoko, 13 Henry Chavancy, 12 Albert Vulivuli, 11 Marc Andreu, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 James Hart, 8 Antonie Claassen, 7 Olivier Missoup, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Francois van der Merwe, 4 Manuel Carizza, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Viliamu Afatia
Replacements: 16 Virgile Lacombe, 17 Julien Brugnaut, 18 Ali Williams, 19 Thibault Dubarry, 20 Xavier Chauveau, 21 Benjamin Dambielle, 22 Casey Laulala, 23 Luc Ducalcon

Last year’s result: Racing won 28-20
Kick-off: 20:45 local (19:45 GMT)
Referee: Pascal Gauzère

Castres v Pau
Stade Pierre Antoine, Castres

Every year we expect Castres to fall back, but they regularly confound, and will be looking to do the same despite rarely taking part in the Top 14 arms race.

While they have made a couple of clever signings, it will be up to Christophe Urios to get the most out of his side once again, especially after the departures of Piula Fa’aselele and Richie Gray, among others.

Another man to have departed is long-time flanker Ibrahim Diarra, and he is one of two new faces in the Pau back-row.

Along with Steffon Armitage, he provides huge pedigree for the men from the Béarn, who expect more after securing survival a year ago.

The retirements of veterans Damien Traille and Jean Bouilhou take away a lot of experience, but this Pau team will fancy their chances of an opening day shock.

The teams:

Castres: 15 Geoffrey Palis, 14 Julien Caminati, 13 Thomas Combezou, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 David Smith, 10 Benjamin Urdapilleta, 9 Rory Kockott, 8 Alex Tulou, 7 Alexandre Bias, 6 Mathieu Babillot, 5 Rodrigo Capo Ortega, 4 Loic Jacquet, 3 Damien Tussac, 2 Brice Mach, 1 Mihaita Lazar
Replacements: 16 Marc-Antoine Rallier, 17 Eric Sione, 18 Thibault Lassalle, 19 Steve Mafi, 20 Antoine Dupont, 21 Julien Dumora, 22 Florian Vialelle, 23 Antoine Tichit

Pau: 15 Charly Malie, 14 Watisoni Votu, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Jale Vatubua, 11 Mosese Ratuvou, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Julien Tomas, 8 James Coughlan, 7 Paddy Butler, 6 Ibrahim Diarra, 5 Julien Pierre, 4 Masalosalo Tutaia, 3 Sylvain Charlet, 2 Thomas Bianchin, 1 Jeremy Hurou
Replacements: 16 Mehdi Boundjema, 17 Chris King, 18 Fabrice Metz, 19 Steffon Armitage, 20 Thibault Daubagna, 21 Brandon Fajardo, 22 Louis Dupichot, 23 Malik Hamadache

Last year’s result: Castres won 37-6
Kick-off: 20:45 local (19:45 GMT)
Referee: Sébastien Minery

La Rochelle v Clermont
Stade Marcel Deflandre, La Rochelle

There’s something of a feeling of déjà-vu at Marcel Deflandre with Clermont kicking off their campaign in La Rochelle for the second straight season.

Last year they romped to a 44-6 win, and while they were left disappointed in the play-offs yet again this season – going down in a thrilling, if a little contentious semi-final against Racing – they remain the regular season masters.

They come into the season without Brock James however, and les Jaunard will be hoping their former Australian fly-half doesn’t come back to bite them.

James was such an integral part of their development into one of Europe’s major forces over the last decade, and it would be no surprise to see him get one over on former team-mate Camille Lopez this weekend.

The teams:

La Rochelle: 15 Kini Murimurivalu, 14 Gabriel Lacroix, 13 Zack Holmes, 12 Pierre Aguillon, 11 Vincent Rattez, 10 Brock James, 9 Ricky Januarie, 8 Afaesetiti Amosa, 7 Zeno Kieft, 6 Romain Sazy, 5 Jone Qovu Nailiko, 4 Jason Eaton, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Maxime Gau, 1 Vincent Pelo
Replacements: 16 Jeremie Maurouard, 17 Lekso Kaulashvili, 18 Leandro Cedaro, 19 Kevin Gourdon, 20 Arthur Retiere, 21 Anthony Fuertes, 22 Romaric Camou, 23 Mohamed Boughanmi

Clermont: 15 Scott Spedding, 14 David Strettle, 13 Benson Stanley, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Noa Nakaitaci, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Peceli Yato, 7 Viktor Kolelishvili, 6 Camille Gerondeau, 5 Arthur Iturria, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Davit Zirakashvili, 2 John Ulugia, 1 Raphael Chaume
Replacements: 16 Yohan Beheregaray, 17 Etienne Falgoux, 18 Sitaleki Timani, 19 Fritz Lee, 20 Enzo Sanga, 21 Patricio Fernandez, 22 Aurelien Rougerie, 23 Clement Ric

Last year’s result: Clermont won 44-6
Kick-off: 20:45 local (19:45 GMT)
Referee: Adrien Descottes

Bayonne v Toulon
Stade Jean Dauger, Bayonne

Welcome back Bayonne! One of the best atmospheres in French rugby returns to the top flight, and it’s a baptism of fire for the Basques at home to Toulon.

Diego Dominguez might have had a complicated off-season, but he still has plenty of talent at his disposal, even without his Rugby Championship contingent.

François Trinh-Duc could be the man to watch at ten, and Guy Novès will be hoping he adapts to his new surroundings quickly.

Bayonne, meanwhile, will have the ever-entertaining Vincent Etcheto on the sidelines, and the former Bordeaux backs coach is a welcome return to the top flight.

Their survival will not be won or lost at home to Toulon, but if they can turn Jean Dauger into a fortress, that will certainly help their cause. 

Previous result: Toulon won 29-15 in 2014
Kick-off: 18:15 local (17:15 GMT)
Referee: Salem Attalah