One down. Twenty-five to go… Not afraid to make a fool of himself after last weekend’s opening matches in the Top 14, James Harrington rushes in to play pundit ahead of the second set of games
Toulon v Racing Metro
Any look ahead at this early season meeting of two of the Top 14’s biggest-spending, deepest-pocketed title contenders will be distilled – understandably but unfairly – into a battle of those kicking Jonnys at number 10, Wilkinson and Sexton.
It’s understandable because it will probably be pitched by the pundits as the battle between the old master and the young pretender. It’s unfair because there is more, much more, to both teams… but few sides leave Stade Mayol with a victory under their belts these days.
Expect plenty of huffing and puffing from Racing, then – and plenty of chances at goal for Sexton – but not even their expensively assembled wolves will be able to blow down Toulon’s even-more expensively assembled record on home soil. This time at least.
Prediction: Toulon by a whisker
Oyonnax v Clermont Auvergne
It would be wonderful to hope that newly promoted Pro D2 champions Oyonnax have any sort of chance in their first Top 14 match on home soil.
But only the most rabid of die-hard fans would dare to hope, let alone predict, that their clash with last season’s European Cup finalists and the side that pipped Toulon to the top of the table last season will be anything other than an 80-minute siege on their try line.
They’ll put up brave, never-say-die rearguard resistance, of course they will – but Oyonnax are no match for the power and talent of Forfana, Sivevatu, Parra, et al.
Prediction: Clermont at a canter
Biarritz v Montpellier
Biarritz are at home for the second week in a row. Last time out, thanks almost entirely to the diminutive Dmitri Yachvilli, they picked up a losing bonus point against Clermont.
This time, things are almost certain to be different. Oh, wait… no they won’t. They’ll lose. And they should count themselves lucky if they pick up a losing bonus point.
Prediction: No contest. Montpellier.
Castres v Grenoble
This should have been a clash between two sides on a high after opening weekend victories.
But there’s a big difference between ‘should’ and ‘is’. While Grenoble did their bit by beating Stade Francais at home, the reigning Top 14 champions conspired to let slip a 10-0 lead inside the opening 10 minutes to lose 26-23 at Perpignan.
But this week’s visitors would be foolish to think that CO will make the same mistakes twice. And, if last season is anything to go by, Grenoble aren’t foolish. Not that it should make any difference at Fortress Pierre Antoine.
Prediction: Castres will be far too strong at home.
Perpignan v Stade Francais
Forget their famous lily livery, this much-heralded new-look Stade Francais were just as lily-livered as their various incarnations over the past few seasons last week against Grenoble.
There’s no reason to suspect things will be any different this week. Even if James Hook drops the ball again when it looks for all the world like it’s easier to score, the Catalan side will be far, far too strong for the big side from Paris that no longer has any reputation to play on.
Prediction: Perpignan were too gutsy for Castres last week. They will be too good for Stade this week.
Toulouse v Bayonne
Another side learning the hard way that a fearsome Top 14 legacy counts for nothing any more, the once-mighty Toulouse should still prove too strong at home for a top-of-the-table Bayonne side that enjoyed an embarrassingly easy workout last week against over-awed Oyonnax.
After all, they are now a match-hardened outfit, while the visitors probably still think it’s pre-season.
Prediction: Toulouse should make up for last week’s defeat with a win
Brive v Bordeaux
Brive opened their account with a commendable 19-14 loss at Racing Metro. It was a result that should fill their fans with confidence for their first home game of the season.
What they have probably been working on this week is how to contain the mercurial talent of an inspired Pierre Barnard, after he kicked his side to victory against Toulouse.
It’s entirely possible that the rubbish Pierre Barnard will take to the pitch this week… even so, Brive will have to play out of their socks if they are to take anything from this game.
Prediction: After their great start last week, Bordeaux should be too strong for Brive.