While popularity, audience viewership, and ratings may be the metrics of the day, many still feel the French Top14 competition is as valid today, as it has ever been. Valid due to the strength of talent, as much as the impact so many International players bring.
In a domestic competition with a wide scattering of popular players, that perceived strength can at times easily transfer into European championships – and several teams are again leading their Pools. Bringing the rugged and inspired style of rugby union, that comes from within the French Top14.
To cover the latest standings, Last Word on Rugby present the current ‘classement’ (rankings). The leading teams of the day, and where teams stand after 12 rounds of competition.
Il est prêt à passer un Joyeux Noël… c'est le classement du TOP 14 ! 🎅🎁
Que pensez-vous du classement de votre équipe favorite ? 🧐 pic.twitter.com/3w7OjAJdId
— TOP 14 Rugby (@top14rugby) December 23, 2018
French Top14 – Latest Standings and Teams Status Report
One clear point visible from the rankings is that the current French Top14 title holders Castres, are not performing. Sadly sitting in eighth place, they hold a 6/12 record. Certainly not good reading, yet with 26 rounds of rugby….there is a long way to go. But let’s not forget, they won the title from sixth place last season.
Vern Cotter has Clermont sitting pretty on top – thanks to bonus points. With them being so vital in professional rugby, then Clermont are maximizing all opportunities. Très Bien.
As are Toulouse. The Ugo Mola coached side have collected eight wins; five wins in a row, with a draw keeping them well placed at the start of the New Year.
Consistency breeds success. With Clermont, La Rochelle and Racing 92 all showing that skill, then it is no surprise which teams look good after 12 rounds. What is key though, is retaining that consistency when leading French players and International stars are called into Six Nations squads.
Only then, will the best prepared and best-motivated sides can survive ‘the tough times’. Rest windows will allow teams the chance to rotate players, so those with quality back-up and good leadership will prosper.
2018 highlights, Standouts and French Top14 Statistics
In recent days, Top14 statistics have heralded leading players in all statistics. They include top try scorer – Virimi Vakatawa.
#TOP14 #TopStats 📊 | J12 #BoxingDaysRugby
9⃣ – Avec son essai contre @usap_officiel, @vvakatawa conforte sa place de meilleur marqueur de TOP 14.
Le @racing92 peut compter sur l'international français pour viser haut cette saison ! pic.twitter.com/9CX9hA8MAS
— TOP 14 Rugby (@top14rugby) December 27, 2018
Other names that were prominent in 2018, were Baptiste Serin, Thomas Ramos, and Thibault Daubagna. Each of these French players will likely be called into their national side, so it will again prove how the start to the New Year, and managing the transition into the Six Nations window, will be a valuable measure of teams prospects.
Of the International players, Finn Russell and Paddy Jackson have made an impact. Benjamin Urdapilleta has fitted into the Castres side, as has Aussie Jake McIntyre for Agen. The experience of Morne Steyn and Ruan Pienaar show that South Africans can enjoy the French Top14 style.
If as much this year, then in 2019, more and more players will each demonstrate their credentials. Expect the highly regarded Ihaia West to show the potential he always had in Super Rugby. And domestic players like Yoan Tanga Mangene and top-tackler Sekou Macalou will also show their talent.
— TOP 14 Rugby (@top14rugby) December 27, 2018
Metrics aside, excitement is still the main draw. And with no team still unbeaten, the unpredictability of many contests means that a Pau, a Bordeaux Bègles, a Stade Français or Lyon fixture ‘might go either way’. Exciting….well, surprising could be the better description for many French Top14 fixtures going into 2019.
Who to watch? What to expect
From the top ten positions currently, there is a 20 point gap. Even though it might seem insurmountable, nothing would surprise LWOR more, than for a Toulon to surge up the Top14 ladder. However they travel to Toulouse and Racing 92 in the next two gameweeks; not favourable for a surge just yet.
Different to the Guinness PRO14 or Gallagher Premiership, the regularity of lower placed teams to upset the leading sides, means there could be a huge swing. Possibly as much to do to the culture and collective will of the ‘underdog’ but, as much to do with sides dropping-off in form.
Last season, La Rochelle appeared to have a fair opportunity of claiming a top finish – but poor form late in the season removed their run at the title.
So fans can expect the unexpected. It might pay ‘not to expect’ anything so that you stay level-headed. And while the New Year gives plenty of chances for all sides to grasp, the one common element is….fitness.
Maintaining fitness, conditioning for such a long season and, dealing with the distractions of the Six Nations, and then European rugby expectations will demand much from every French Top14 rugby club.
Clermont could retain their place all season, and that would again show the class of the team from Auvergne region. And in French Top14 rugby, having class is a crucial ingredient to success in 2019.
French Top14 continues, with Round 13 played on Saturday and Sunday, December 29-30.
The 2019 Guinness Six Nations begins on Friday, February 1 – France v Wales.
Round Five of the Heineken Champions Cup is scheduled for January 12, 2019.
Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images