Racing 92 head into the new Top 14 season with a mostly made in France squad that glitters with just a few overseas stars – but what stars…

Key signing

Kurtley Beale has been the one truly big Top 14 signing for next season. Fullback, centre, fly-half, he offers huge value for money at his reported salary of €400,000 a year.

Key departure

Brice Dulin. The two-time Top 14 winner is a casualty of the salary cap – and a big part of the reason for the multi-talented Beale’s arrival. He heads to La Rochelle, while prop Ben Tameifuna has also gone – this time to beef up already formidable front-row options at Bordeaux.

They say

“It’s always difficult to say how you see a season. What is important is to prepare in the right way so that we’re in the best possible place. It’s up to us to do the right things. We are only dependent on ourselves – we must prepare accordingly in relation to what awaits us in the calendar” (Laurent Travers, actu.fr)

We say

It’s actually not that difficult to say how you see a season. Racing have a terrifying squad for 2020/21. The usual ‘if they can gel’ question hardly applies, as most of them have been playing together for a few years – they’ve already gelled. In Travers, Mike Prendergast, and Patricio Noreiga they have some of the smartest rugby brains around.

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That playing talent, those coaching brains. It’s a powerful combination.

Desperate start

Last season threatened to go very wrong very quickly for Racing 92. One win, three defeats and a draw in their first five home games – including a season-opening loss to promoted Bayonne – left them second-from-bottom after eight rounds of the campaign.

Blooding young players

Then, 11 players who were at the World Cup returned. Racing have never used the World Cup as an excuse for their poor start – they said it gave them an important chance to blood new, young players.

Nor were they losing games by much – in some cases it was by the skin of the bounce of a ball. But that sort of thing doesn’t show on league tables, unless you look closely. Their points difference after eight games was +7. At the same time, Stade Francais, one place below at the foot of the league, had a points difference -133.

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Regardless, Racing’s coaches were not overly concerned. With good reason.

After the 17th round – which turned out to be the last of the Top 14 season – Racing had roared up to third. Their points difference was +125. (Stade’s, for the record, had also stabilised somewhat, at -160). Racing won seven of their last nine Top 14 games, and four of six Champions Cup games to top a pool containing Saracens, Munster and Ospreys.

Then Covid-19 stopped everything.

Racing 92 – a side ‘Made in France’ … mostly

Like Toulouse, Racing have been relatively circumspect in the transfer market. But their few forays into the player pool have been rather more spectacular. Luke Jones, from Bordeaux via four outings at Melbourne, is a smart signing, while Kurtley Beale is the biggest name to move to France next season.

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Despite those overseas signings, Racing are leading a mad charge among French clubs to ‘Made In France’ status. Next season, just eight players in their senior squad will not have JIFF status – new signings Jones and Beale, and Finn Russell, Simon Zebo, Dominic Bird, Donnacha Ryan, Juan Imhoff and Antonie Claassen.

Racing could pick a matchday squad with a backline including Iribaren, Russell, Beale, Zebo, Imhoff and Virimi Vakatawa behind a powerful – and mobile – pack that could feature Jordan Joseph, Yoan Tanga Mangene, Camille Chat, Boris Palu and Wenceslas Lauret.

That’s a prospect to plague the dreams of defence coaches anywhere.

Arrivals

Luke Jones; Kurtley Beale; Donovan Taofifenua

Departures

Vasil Kakovin; Ben Tameifuna; Issam Hamel; Ewan Johnson; Johnny Dyer; Ben Volavola; Brice Dulin

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