Top 14 season preview 2021-22

Antoine Dupont 26/3/2021
Defending Top 14 champions Toulouse kick-start their 2021-22 campaign with a trip to La Rochelle on Sunday in a repeat of last season’s final.

Defending Top 14 champions Toulouse kick-start their 2021-22 campaign with a trip to La Rochelle on Sunday in a repeat of last season’s final.

Ugo Mola’s side claimed their 21st French title in June with an 18-8 victory thanks to 15 points from the boot of French international Thomas Ramos.

Toulouse also got the better of La Rochelle in the Heineken Champions Cup final winning 22-17 at Twickenham, so revenge will definitely be on the cards for the home side’s new director of rugby Ronan O’Gara at the Stade Marcel-Deflandre.

Former Ireland fly-half O’Gara, the Guinness Six Nations’ record points scorer with 557, stepped up into his new role at the end of last season after Jono Gibbes’ departure to become head coach at Clermont Auvergne.

Toulouse will be able to call upon the likes of French stars Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack as neither side provided any players to France’s summer tour to Australia, given their involvement in the final.

The impressive Anthony Jelonch has joined Toulouse from Castres but after he captained a youthful Les Bleus side to a narrow 2-1 tour defeat Down Under, he will have to wait for his debut.

The champions will also be without winger Cheslin Kolbe, who slotted a stunning 50m drop goal in last year’s final, after his move to Toulon was confirmed.

The South African speedster, 27, spent his summer helping the Springboks secure a 2-1 series win over a British and Irish Lions side captained by Wales’ Alun Wyn Jones, who lifted the Guinness Six Nations trophy earlier this year.

Kolbe will not make his Toulon bow at the Stade Mayol on Saturday night against Montpellier as he is away at the Rugby Championship, but the home side will be led by Italy No.8 and Guinness Six Nations record appearance holder Sergio Parisse.

England international Kieran Brookes is set to start his first match at tighthead prop after signing from Wasps and he will be up against former France captain Guilhem Guirado in the front row with the hooker once again facing his old side.

Both sides will be looking to improve on last season’s efforts after Montpellier finished tenth with Toulon two places better off in the table but failing to make the play-offs for the second time in three years.

Arguably the pick of Saturday’s action pits Parisian rivals Stade Français and Racing 92 together at the Stade Jean Bouin in the capital.

AB Zondagh leaves Toulouse to join Scotland as assistant coach

Racing are set to field the exciting French centre partnership of Gael Fickou and Virimi Vakatawa with Fickou facing the side he left mid-season during the last campaign.

They are likely to come up against Ngani Laumape in an intriguing head-to-head with the All Black centre in line to make his Top 14 debut in a repeat of last season’s play-off game which Racing won 38-21.

Scotland playmaker Finn Russell is not available until next week after his exploits with the Lions but France Under-20s captain and scrum-half Nolann Le Garrec is one to watch for Racing fans with the 19-year-old tipped to have a big future.

Elsewhere, Perpignan return to the premier division of French rugby for the first time since 2019 after winning Pro D2 last season and face a trip to Brive first up.

The Catalans beat Biarritz 33-14 in the Pro D2 final but they will still be joined in the Top 14 by the side they defeated.

Biarritz won a sensational penalty shoot-out against Bayonne in the play-off to relegate their local rivals.

The hero was former England back rower Steffon Armitage who slotted the winning penalty to send fans of the Basque club wild after the match had finished 3-3 after 80 minutes and 6-6 following extra time.

Armitage, fresh from signing a new two-year deal, and his team-mates host Bordeaux-Bègles at the Parc des Sports Aguiléra on Saturday.

And they will have to deal with the likes of influential France ace Matthieu Jalibert as Top 14 rugby returns to the club after seven years.