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French Top 14: Toulon v La Rochelle and Lyon v Racing Metro Preview
Our rugby scribe takes a look at this weekend’s two headline Top 14 clashes.
There’s not much in the way of XV's rugby on the go this coming weekend with the Aviva Premiership’s mid-season break coming into effect and the Six Nations, as well as Varsity Cup, only kicking off next week.
The only televised XV’s rugby we’ll have to look forward to this coming weekend is the Top 14. Thankfully, though, the French rugby authorities have served up some absolute classics with Toulon taking on La Rochelle and Lyon clashing with Racing Metro.
Toulon v La Rochelle | Saturday 28 January | Stade Mayol | 15:35
To Win (80 Mins)
Toulon 1/5 | Draw 21/1 | La Rochelle 36/10
Toulon’s return to form has coincided with the return from injury of Wallaby, Matt Giteau. To say Giteau brings a different dynamic to the side would be an understatement. The utility back has slotted back into the fly-half role with consummate ease and given the Toulon backline some much needed guidance.
While Giteau is the puppet master, his midfield colleagues are the battering rams who give him time and space to pull the strings. One of the aforementioned battering rams, Mathieu Basteraud, has been called up to the French Six Nations squad.
This is where things get interesting. While most of England, Ireland, Scotland, Italy, and Wales’ internationals will be wrapped in cotton wool this week, their French counterparts are likely to be forced to turn out for their clubs a week prior to starting a Six Nations campaign.
Toulon coach, Mike Ford, is yet to announce his matchday 23, but I wouldn’t bet against Basteraud featuring in it.
La Rochelle are less reliant on individual brilliance than this weekend’s opposition. Their surge to second place on the Top 14 standings has come courtesy of a real team effort. They’ve been on a tremendous run, winning their last six games and will pose a huge threat to Toulon despite being away from home.
Verdict: Toulon 1/5
The return of Giteau has reinvigorated this Toulon side, who historically hit their straps midway through the season. The hosts should edge this one by between 3 and 7 points.
Lyon v Racing Metro | Saturday 28 January | Matmut Stadium | 21:45
To Win (80 Mins)
Lyon 17/20 | Draw 16/1 | Racing 1/1
Lyon have looked a lot better in recent months than their lowly log position would allude to. They may currently lie in 12th position but they have been picking up points, although the majority of these have come from bonus point losses.
Defending Champions Racing have been a shadow of themselves this season and currently lie in ninth position on the log. Thankfully for them, talisman Dan Carter is starting to recapture a bit of form. The All Black legend was key to for Racing last season, and they’ll need him to be firing on all cylinders for their trip to Lyon.
These two sides come into this one off the back of contrasting European results with Lyon hammering Grenoble 57-13 in the Challenge Cup and Racing going down 22-10 to Munster. The two sides also produced contradictory results manage in their last domestic games with Lyon beating Bordeaux 19-16 and Racing beaten 17-11 by Toulon.
Verdict: Racing 1/1
Racing have looked better in recent weeks and there’s a lot more star quality in their squad than Lyon’s. My money is on Carter kicking Racing to victory this Saturday evening.