It was only June 2 when Castres completed their unlikely run to the Top 14 crown yet it is already time for a new domestic season to get underway in France.
The opening round of fixtures in the 2018-19 campaign pits the defending champions against Montpellier, the team they defeated to claim the title at the Stade de France (get your full RugbyPass Top 14 preview here).
Racing 92 – who lost the European Champions Cup final to Leinster in Bilbao – will be keen for domestic success, while big-spending Stade Francais have bolstered their squad by signing Argentina international Nicolas Sanchez and France duo Yoann Maestri – who backed out of a move to La Rochelle to head to Paris – and Gael Fickou, buying the latter out of the last year of his contract at Toulouse.
There are a host of new names joining the competition, including Julian Savea and Simon Zebo, while a familiar team returns after 2009 champions Perpignan sealed promotion back to the top tier.
Ahead of the first weekend, and with help from Opta, we have picked out some of the best statistics surrounding the competition.
– Montpellier and Castres meet on the opening day after facing each other in last season’s final, the third time this has happened in the Top 14 era (Stade v Clermont Auvergne in 2007 & Clermont v Perpignan in 2010).
– Castres triumphed in the play-offs last season despite ending up in sixth position in the league, the lowest finish by an eventual Top 14 champion. In fact, four of the last six champions have now finished outside the top three, while the last team to finish top of the league and win the title was Toulon in 2013-14.
– World Cup winner Savea is set to feature in the Top 14 this season after signing for Toulon. Only Doug Howlett (49) has scored more Test tries for New Zealand than Savea (46), who impressively averaged one every 88 minutes for the All Blacks.
– Toulon scored 52 tries in the first half of games last season, the only side to reach a half-century in the opening 40 minutes of matches. Montpellier (56) and Lyon (50) were the only sides to cross for 50 or more second-half tries.
– There was an average of 53 points scored in games involving relegated Oyonnax last season, the most of any side, while matches involving Racing saw the fewest points on average (42).
– French duo Morgan Parra (53 out of 58) and Lionel Beauxis (61 out of 67) each slotted over 91 per cent of their kicks at goal last season, making them the only players to attempt 15 or more and maintain a success rate of 90 per cent or better.
– Lyon scrum-half Baptiste Couilloud scored 10 tries and assisted a further 11, making him the only player to reach double figures in both categories.
– Chris Ashton scored 24 tries in his solitary season with Toulon, a record in a single campaign. The winger – who has returned to England with Sale Sharks – also made 41 clean breaks, eight more than any other player.
24 – @ChrisAshton1 broke the @top14rugby try scoring record in his first season in the competition (24), while he also made 41 clean breaks, 8 more than any other player. Splash. pic.twitter.com/mW5PDvy0UP
— OptaJonny (@OptaJonny) August 2, 2018
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