TOULOUSE AND LA ROCHELLE TRADING PLACES
Seven changes to TOP spot in world’s most competitive league
Five matchdays remain and two teams are level on points at the summit of the TOP 14.
Toulouse and La Rochelle, both locked on 67 points after 21 games, are looking set for a home semi-final when the TOP 14 play-offs come around.
These two sides have dominated TOP spot since matchday eight in a season in which the lead has changed hands seven times over the last eight months.
Brive were early table-toppers after a convincing open-day victory over Bayonne. This did not last long however, as the leadership chopped and changed throughout the opening month of the season, with four different leaders in the first four matchdays.
Toulouse went TOP on Matchday 4 after a 30-24 victory over Racing. This was a clear message to the rest of the division that they were determined to retain their title. Les rouges et noir would spend three weeks at the TOP before another change of leadership. Two successive defeats, to Lyon and Stade Français saw Toulouse lose grasps of TOP spot. These two losses came during France’s Autumn Nations Cup campaign. Toulouse paid the price for having a large proportion of their squad selected for the national side and during their absence the chasing pack were able to make up ground on them.
Clermont capitalised on Toulouse’s slip to return to the TOP. A victory over Brive lifted them to the summit, a position they had previously held for a week after Matchday 3. This glory was short-lived, however.
La Rochelle, aiming to win the TOP 14 in their history, beat Clermont 19-10 to take TOP spot and demonstrate their own title ambitions. This would begin a period of six weeks where La Rochelle would lead the way in the TOP 14. As weeks passed, talk of La Rochelle’s title charge turned from possibility to that of a serious contender.
This run would be ended by Toulouse, determined not to relinquish their grip on the TOP 14 title without a fight. A victory over Stade Français, avenging their earlier defeat to the Paris side, saw Toulouse reclaim pole position. This would come in the midst of an eight-game winning streak for France’s most successful club team. This run would see them clear at the TOP of the league for seven weeks. That was, until this weekend.
Having played two European ties in the weeks before, Toulouse played a rested side against Castres at the weekend. They were punished for playing a side that saw the likes of Dupont, Kaino, Kolbe and Ntamack rested by a full-strength Castres who came out 26-24 winners.
La Rochelle, who had also played two European ties in the preceding weeks, opted not to rest players in order to continue the fine form and confidence that reaching a Champions Cup semi-final brings. A full-strength La Rochelle but in an emphatic display over Lyon and came out as 38-23 winners. This victory brought La Rochelle level on points with Toulouse!
La Rochelle and Toulouse are the two clear favourites to lift the TOP 14 trophy this season. But as we all know, the TOP 14 is an unpredictable tournament, and anything can happen. As the season draws to a close, we want to know, who do you think will be crowned TOP 14 champions at the end of season?