Who's hot...and who's not!

08th Jan 2014, 11:54

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Hot and Not: Stade & Gloucester

Hot and Not: Stade & Gloucester

It is time for our weekly wrap up of who has their name in lights at the moment...and who is making the headlines for the wrong reasons.

It is time for our weekly wrap up of who has their name in lights at the moment...and who is making the headlines for the wrong reasons.

They're on fire!

Stade Français: The surprise package in this year's Top 14, Stade are currently three points behind Clermont in second place and have won more matches in the league so far - 11 - than any other side. That's a stark contrast to last season when they languished in 10th place and their squad had the look a group of international wanderers.

This season it's all change - a youthful French core of Hugo Bonneval, Antoine Burban and Jules Plisson have all worked their way into the France squad for the Six Nations, with Plisson playing so well at fly-half that he's kept Morné Steyn warming the bench. Given their current form, Stade are true contenders for the playoffs and possibly more success.

Saracens and Saints: An 11-point gap now exists at the top of the Aviva Premiership between second placed Northampton and third placed Bath. What was once a little gap has now grown into a sizeable gulf after Bath lost at Franklin's Gardens and then drew with Leicester, leaving Saints and league leaders Saracens alone at the top. It's no coincidence that we've predicted that those two sides will be contesting the Premiership final in May this year.

Saracens have the deepest squad and playing a thrilling brand of offloading rugby epitomised by the Vunipola brothers. Northampton on the other hand are flourishing with George North as their main weapon, but also crucially down to the conducting of Lee Dickson and Stephen Myler and a powerful pack. If both teams continue in this manner, the gap between themselves and the rest will only grow.

Jared Payne: Whether to pick out Ruan Pienaar, Payne or even Ulster as a team was the in-house debate this week but we settled on the former Blues full-back for special recognition. When he isn't playing, Ulster miss the cutting edge he provides with ball in hand. He was very much in attendance on Friday though against Munster as an impressive performance saw him score an run great lines in the first-half. As we say, big mentions to Pienaar for his nineteen-point haul while Ulster were clinical in the opening 40 minutes before Munster fought back admirably.

Zebre: We've dished out plenty criticism to the Pro12's perennial whipping boys; now it's time to pay them some credit. A much-improved side from last season, helped in no small measure by ex-All Black scrum-half Brendon Leonard pulling the strings, Zebre claimed their first-ever competitive home win on Saturday. And it came in the sweetest of fashions, as they downed Italian rivals Treviso 14-12 in front of a home crowd at Stadio XXV Aprile. That win keeps them off bottom spot, and we hope they continue to become even more competitive.

Grenoble: Little Grenoble's stock continues to rise in the Top 14, aided by a hefty Irish influence both on and off the field that includes former Leinster hooker Bernard Jackman in the coaches' box. This weekend, they pulled off undoubtedly their result of the season to date trumping star-studded, cash-splashing, mogul-run Heineken Cup champions Toulon on their own patch. A mention, too, for newly-promoted Oyonnax, who sprung another surprise in downing another big-spending outfit, Racing Métro.




Get these guys a cup of warm soup!

Welsh Rugby: This one continues to snowball. The past week has seen a fresh barrage of statements from both the WRU and RRW - the body representing the four regions - offering claims and counter-claims to each other; frankly, it's a bout of mud-slinging more suited to a US Presidential election. Naturally, both parties are adamant they are acting in Welsh rugby's best interests (whatever they are, no-one seems to know). The dispute has fast-become a struggle for power, control and cash in a nation where rugby is religion and the game's great ethos is spread. It's all rather sad, really.

Gloucester: "Fortress Kingsholm" has been under siege this season, with Nigel Davies' men losing a total of eight home fixtures at what has always been regarded as one of English rugby's most daunting and formidable venues. Saracens were the latest to storm the Cherry and White ramparts, consigning Gloucester to a thumping 29-8 defeat, with the uninspiring home performance typified by a lacklustre defence giving the Shed faithful much to mull over.

Biarritz and Worcester: Fans of these two clubs, in seriously dire straits, must be acutely aware of the fat lady warbling away as their respective hopes of Top 14 and Premiership survival grow fainter. Once mighty, Biarritz have won a pitiful three league games all season; and find themselves rooted to the bottom of the table needing a whopping 13 points to catch their nearest rivals. The Warriors, meanwhile, have endured a wholly uninspiring domestic campaign (to put it kindly), failing to win a single match and mustering just three Premiership points. Their loss to fellow strugglers London Irish on Saturday all but sealed their fate.

Racing Métro and Montpellier: For all the money spent on big-name players, there hasn't been a great deal of bang for their buck as both Racing Métro and Montpellier continue to splutter their way through the Top 14 and Heineken Cup campaigns. Over the weekend the Parisians lost against Oyonnax 6-0 in a low-scoring affair while Montpol were beaten 15-9 at Brive. They're both out of the reckoning for a knockout place in Europe's premier competition and currently sit seventh and eighth in the domestic league. Owners will hope things click during the coming weeks.