Three rounds in, the Top 14 is emerging as one of rugby’s most competitive and exciting leagues. This week’s action continued to serve up great rugby from top to bottom of the table, and provide plenty of talking points.
La Rochelle told the world just how they feel about stumbling in last years semi-finals despite having led the regular season by 7 points. They put last year’s champions Clermont to the sword, running rampant to a 51-20 win at home.
Gabriel Lacroix was the talk of the town after claiming a hat trick of tries and exemplifying the ruthless La Rochelle backlash after their loss to Stade Francais last week.
That loss means La Rochelle still trail league leaders Montpellier by 5 points, but if this week is anything to go by they’re on the charge towards redemption. Such a merciless destruction of giants Clermont will act as a warning signal to the rest of the competition. Les Corsaires have no intention of repeating last year’s mistakes and have their eyes firmly fixed on the Stade de France.
To win it all La Rochelle will have to get past Montpellier, the big spenders are cashing in on their investment and sitting pretty with 3 wins from 3. That being said, their path past the ever dangerous Castres wasn’t such a walk in the park.
They needed a 74th minute match winner from Nemani Nadolo to maintain their perfect record and top their opponents 22-17. A win is a win, yet many will wonder whether their victory shows grit and the self-confidence, or whether they fell over the line on Ruan Pienaar’s back.
The Springbok scored 17 of their 22 points, ran the show from the base of the ruck, and likely was the difference maker for Montpellier. They’ll hope never to have to do without him but if they ever do, other teams will hope to see if they’d be losing a man they’re overly reliant on.
Pienaar is only one of many stars in the Top14, but no team possesses more star power than Toulon, and none have a more glittering history than Toulouse. Last weekend’s clash between the two saw a pair of juggernauts throw their weight around in drastically different ways.
In a battle of power versus pace, power eventually bullied it’s way to the win. Toulon’s monstrous pack powered them to a 20-16 trumph at home, but not without having to roll over some silky backline play from Toulouse.
If anything, the match was an exhibition of the age old forwards vs backs debate. Traditional French flair from Toulouse couldn’t quite be converted into enough to outdo it’s burlier brother, and Toulon’s battering ram wasn’t as exciting to watch, but proved more effective.
The debate will rage on forever, and is as closely contested as the match was. Toulon held out into the 83rd minute to grab the points and climb the table to 4th.
With a spate of crucial contests coming up in the next round every point matters, the next match day sees Montpellier take on Toulon and Toulouse face up against a volatile Stade Francais. If anythings for sure with French rugby, the Top14 will keep the talking points coming.