Our rugby scribe takes a look at Sunday’s French Top 14 clash between Bayonne and Toulon.
It is a bit absurd that the French Top 14 is kicking off this weekend when the 2015/16 season only ended less than two months ago. This short turn-around time doesn’t phase me at all. I’m actually rather excited as there’s always plenty value floating around France’s premier rugby league.
While there’s a full house of fixtures this weekend, we’ve elected to focus our attention on the clash between promoted Bayonne and powerhouses Toulon.
Bayonne v Toulon | Sunday 21 August | Stade Jean Dauger | 18:15
To Win (80 Mins)
Bayonne 24/10 | Draw 20/1 | Toulon 3/10
After a year in the Pro D2 (The second tier of French rugby), Bayonne are back in the top tier of French Rugby. They returned to the big time by virtue of winning their two promotion playoff games.
Bayonne are in for a much tougher test this year as they are competing with clubs who have deep pockets and even longer arms. That’s not to say that Bayonne don’t have any financial clout themselves. The club from South-Western France have already brought in Tanerau Latimer from the Auckland Blues, Wasps Italian prop Lorenzo Cittadini and Scottish eight Johnnie Beattie. All three of these men have a bucket load of experience which will somewhat offset the relatively young nature of the Bayonne squad.
The key man for Bayonne this Sunday will be sharpshooter, Martin Bustos Moyano. The former Argentine international enjoyed a stellar Pro D2 campaign last season racking up near on 200 points.
Another Bayonne man to keep your eye out for is Fijian centre, Gabriele Lovobaluvu. He’s a powerful runner and a very handy defender. His defensive skills will be well and truly put to the test this weekend as he’s coming up against an illustrious Toulon centre pairing.
So near but yet so far. That was the tale of Toulon's 2015/16 French Top 14 campaign. The star-studded were edged to the title by a Dan Carter-inspired Racing Metro. The Toulon squad will be looking to make up for that disappointment by reclaiming their title this season.
While the likes of Matt Giteau and Bryan Habana are away with their national sides, Toulon are still able to call upon Ma’a Nonu, Leigh Half-Penny, and Georgian battering ram, Mamuka Gorgodze. They will also have new signing Ayumu Goromaru available for selection.
With neither coach having announced his starting XV, it’s still up in the air with regards to who will feature in Toulon’s starting XV. I’m not going to try and hazard a guess here, instead, I’ll just say that whatever players take to the field, they will be a cut above their opponents.
Verdict: Toulon 3/10
This is my banker for the weekend. Toulon have the quality and they’ll want to send a message out to every other side in the division. I can see them doing just this by inflicting a heavy defeat upon Bayonne.