TOP AT CHRISTMAS: GOOD TIDINGS FOR THE TITLE?
La Rochelle enjoy festive cheer with one eye on final matchday 2020
What does it mean to be TOP at Christmas, and more importantly, does it foretell success at the sharp end of the season?
Spoiler alert: No. But read on, because the last matchday of 2020 threatens to shake up the table even before we get to 2021.
Sitting pretty at the summit is La Rochelle on 35 points, just two ahead of Toulouse and three ahead of Racing 92. So let’s see if they have history on their sides. Since 2012-13, just one team TOP at Christmas has won the title.
And given it is crowded at the top of the table, matchday 12 could throw up a festive hangover or two. La Rochelle welcome a faltering Montpellier to the Stade Marcel-Deflandre on Sunday.
Two wins in Europe (despite one coming via a COVID cancellation), have helped La Rochelle get back to winning ways after losing their last TOP 14 game before the European break. Coupled with the return of their international players from the Autumn Nations Cup, La Rochelle will hope for victory against a Montpellier side who are struggling to find consistent performances. A win away at Clermont before the European break would have bolstered Montpellier fan’s confidence that they could get their season back on track, but two heavy losses in Europe to Leinster and Wasps brought them crashing back to earth.
Second-place Toulouse take on mid-table Bordeaux. Two of the TOP 14’s most entertaining teams will surely put on a Christmas treat for everyone. France’s two young 10s go head-to-head in the form of Ntamack and Jalibert. Both sides were successful in Europe, with two wins from two. Toulouse will go into this match as favourites. Their position in the table, home form and star-studded team will be a real test for Bordeaux who are yet to demonstrate the form that had them TOP of the league last season before it was cancelled.
There are great matchups all over the pitch but Cheslin Kolbe up against Santiago Cordero stands out.
Third-place Racing 92 take on Agen in what could well be one-sided affair. Racing had a decent start to the season, and a successful start to their European campaign as well, it feels like the Paris outfit are really starting to hit their stride, with players like Russell, Zebo and Thomas all in form. They take on an Agen side with only one win to their name this season, a 28-0 awarded win over Benetton, due to the Italian club having to forfeit due to an outbreak of COVID in their camp.
Brive, embroiled in a relegation scrap, welcome in-form Lyon to the Stade Amédée-Domenech. Brive have struggled this season but a win over Agen just before the European break was a small consolation. Lyon have been in unstoppable form of late, with eight wins and one draw from their last nine games. The try scoring exploits of Mignot and Tuisova along with the nerveless kicking of Wisneiwski, make Lyon over-whelming favourites.
Castres against Bayonne tosses up a hard-to-predict clash. Castres’ home form this season is poor, with one win in their five games at the Stade Pierre-Fabre. Bayonne have been entertaining - a team that can score tries, but struggle to stop them going in at the other end. Their games have posted the most points of any TOP 14 side this season. Both teams, having failed to win over the European break, will be looking to return to the TOP 14 with a win to carry into the New Year.
Pau welcome Stade Français to the Pyrenees with each teams’ fortunes differing. Stade Français find themselves sitting in fifth looking up the table with their eyes on the summit, whilst Pau will be looking nervously behind them, hoping not to get dragged into a relegation battle. With only one win in the four games combined over the European break, both sides will be glad to welcome back TOP 14 action. Stade Français will look to improve their away form if they are to mount a title charge, whilst Pau need results to keep their head above the precipice.
In the final game of the day Toulon take on Clermont at the Stade Mayol. Clermont will be hurting from their Champions Cup loss to Munster. 28-16 up at half-time, they let the game slip away and lost 31-39. They had the chance to go two from two in Europe after a win against Bristol a week earlier but failed to capitalise on their positive start. Toulon recorded a good win over Sale to make a winning start and will look to that form to help propel themselves up the TOP 14 table. In the last nine matches between these two teams, the home side has come away with the victory. For that reason, Toulon could well be favourites.