Written by Darry Worthington for @Hollywoodbets. Follow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!
Stade Francais Paris v Toulouse | Sunday 3 January | Stade Jean Boudin | 22:00
Stade Francais host current Top 14 leaders Toulouse in the pick of this weekend’s European Rugby action. The away side will come to the Stade Jean Boudin with their tails up after defeating Toulon last weekend while the hosts will be looking atone for their poor start to their domestic campaign which sees them stranded way down in 12th spot on the log.
So, will Toulouse hold on to top spot or will Stade get a morale-boosting victory?
To Win (80 Mins)
While Toulouse managed to pull off a shock win this past weekend, Stade were involved in an upset of their own. The ‘All Pinks’ suffered an ignominious 25-12 defeat Oyonnax. The loss has left them wallowing two positions off the foot of the table and they need to turn the corner quickly if they are to have any hopes of retaining their spot in next season’s the European Champions Cup.
I have to admit that I haven’t seen much of Stade in action this season. The one game I did catch was their Champions Cup opener against the Leister Tigers. Despite going down by 13 points, the French side actually left me rather impressed. They led for the majority of the first half, and a late blitz from Leicester added a lot of gloss to what should have been a much tighter scoreline.
That opening fixture actually sums up their start to the season quite well – they’ve had their moments but haven’t been able to put a string of games/80 minutes together. They have a quality squad who are more than capable of turning things around but they need to start playing as a unit. Morne Steyn and Meyer Bosman occupy the ten and 12 channels respectively. The two former Boks play a typical brand of South African rugby – ‘skop’ at every given opportunity. Perhaps that’s a bit harsh. Steyn did look to throw the ball around when given a limited amount of playing time against America at the World Cup. As many people have testified, the former Bulls ten was more of a running pivot than a kicking flyhalf at schoolboy level but during his time with Stade he’s been used in the exact same manner he was for the Bulls; as a kicking weapon.
The strange thing about this whole scenario is that Stade have some very exciting outside backs, who thrive when the game is of an open-ended nature. Samoan Paul Williams and the French trio of Hugo Bonneval, Julian Arias and Jeremy Sinzelle are all partial to playing an attacking brand of rugby. And when you factor in the likes of Fijian flyer Waisea Nayacavuwala and Aussie veteran Will Guinea, it kind of makes you think Stade are facing an existential crises. Are they an attacking team who happen to have a kicking ten or are they a team who plays a conservative brand of union and happens to some very attacking players?
They’re going to have to find the answer to that question sooner rather than later as any more dropped points could see the Stade faithful begin to voice their dissatisfaction. And the last thing a struggling side needs is a disgruntled fan base.
I am still trying to get my head around terms with the performance Toulouse put in against Toulon last Sunday. They’ve been nothing short of dire in recent weeks, and whilst they were priced up as favorites, anyone who says they foresaw them putting 30 points past a star-studded Toulon side, is telling you porkies.
Having lost their previous two fixtures – both European Cup ties with Ulster – Toulouse would have been desperate to consolidate their lofty position in their domestic league. They managed to do just this by producing their most complete performance of the season, thus far. Gael Fickou is fast becoming a talismanic presence for Toulouse. The talented outside centre opened the scoring for his side with an opportunistic try on the 11-minute mark. Ma’a Nonu was trying to open things up deep inside his own twenty-two. The All Black threw a massive skip pass which was intercepted by Fickou, who had the simple task of running the ball in from five metres out. Fickou’s try was converted by Nicolas Bezy to give Toulouse a seven-point lead before the first quarter of the game had even been completed. The rest of the first stanza was a bit of a dull affair with only a further three points being added to the scoreboard.
So as the teams went in for the half-time break Toulouse were four points up. While it’s always handy to carry a lead into the second stanza, I still feared Toulouse would be blown away in the second half. The complete opposite was to transpire, however. Instead, of Toulon exerting wave after wave of pressure, it was Toulouse, who continually pestered the Toulon defensive line. They were well rewarded with three second half tries and a vital bonus point victory that sees them head into the New Year at the summit of the Top 14 log.
If they are to retain first place, they’re going to need to put in another inspired performance this weekend. They have the pack to take on Stade but they may struggle to compete with their opponents in the backline stakes. Gael Fickou is likely to be the key for Toulouse once again. While his try scoring exploits have been well publicized, the defensive side of his game hasn’t received the praise it deserves. His ability to help organize his backline was evident last weekend and if he and his fellow backs maintain their commitment levels then they may well be in with a sniff of starting the year off with a victory.
Verdict: Toulouse 23/10
I was less than kind about Toulouse in last week’s preview and suffered the consequences – they ruined my multiple. This time, around I’m going to back them for the win and hopefully end the year with a nice payday.Bet on this match now at Hollywoodbets.net! Haven’t got an account? Open one here now
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