The Top 14 is back. The 2022-2023 season of the French rugby championship opens with the meeting between Racing and Castres, Saturday September 3 at 3 p.m. One year before the World Cup in France, this season promises to be as tight and exciting as the previous ones. Franceinfo: sport takes stock of the ambitions of each of the teams.
The favorites: La Rochelle and Toulouse have the fangs, Montpellier put to the test
Apart from the new star proudly sewn above the logo, a lot has changed in La Rochelle. The European champion has separated from historical players (Vito, Retière, Priso, West) and has focused his recruitment on the Top 14. Highly visible with the Blues in Japan, Yoan Tanga is strengthening an already conquering third line. The twirling Teddy Thomas (Racing) and Ulupano”UJ” Seuteni (UBB) will bring their magic behind, while the opener Antoine Hastoy (Pau) will have to pass a course. These reinforcements, grafted to a solid framework, make the Maritimes natural favorites for the Brennus.
The same goes for Toulouse frustrated by a white season ended in the semi-finals of the Top 14 and European Cup last year. The recruits Jaminet, Retière, Barassi and the Italian Capuozzo are the jewels of recruitment. Their incorporation into a workforce largely provided with internationals, led by the best player in the world Antoine Dupont, will be spied on, as will the team’s ability to cope with their absences during duplicates.
— Antoine Dupont (@Dupont9A) August 25, 2022
Champion status obliges, Montpellier appears as a logical favorite to his own succession. “We are in the discovery, we do not really know how it can happen”, recognized the Arthur Vincent center. The MHR lost some historical (Paillaugue, Guirado, Ouedraogo) and welcomed targeted reinforcements (Coly in the scrum, Carbonel in the opening, Lam in the wing).
Beaten by Montpellier last year in the semi-finals, the UBB remains armed. Christophe Urios’ players want to approach the exercise calmly, after a turbulent end to the season internally. Recruitment is important (Miquel, Vili, Falatea, Holmes). Nevertheless, the departures of many executives (Woki, Lam, Païva, Picamoles, Seuteni) make Bordeaux-Bègles go further than the other three favorites.
The other suitors: Castres faithful to itself, Toulon and Racing revenge
It’s a chestnut tree: before each season, Castres has the head of the perfect outsider. The one not to talk about, but who will do everything to play the spoilsports, like last season ended in the final. Apart from the retirement of the emblematic Rory Kockott, the CO has not revolutionized its workforce.
The change is clearer in Racing. The Ciel et Blancs innovated by parting ways with many former members (Thomas, Beale, Machenaud, Tanga). Apart from international Cameron Woki, the arrivals look more like bets than certainties. In such a dense Top 14, the horizon of Ile-de-France residents, on alternating current last year, is not looking good.
— Cameron Woki (@CameronWoki) August 21, 2022
Toulon seem more able to sneak through to the finals. The Mignoni-Azema duo knows how to do it, especially since the workforce has been reinforced by the arrival of the Fijian tightrope walker Waisea. Other confirmed players have joined La Rade (Priso, Sinzelle, Baubigny, West).
Lyon, winner of the Challenge Cup but absent from the last final stages, pursues a similar objective. Now guided by Xavier Garbajosa, the Rhodaniens will however have to evolve orphans of their pair of Ngatai-Barassi centers. The acclimatization of recruits from the southern hemisphere will say more about the reserves of this LOU. Finally, a slew of formations – Pau, Stade Français, Clermont – seem too fair to infiltrate the race for the dams.
The fight to maintain: Rowing seems armed, Perpignan and Brive a little less
Accustomed to the yo-yo between Top 14 and Pro D2, Bayonne turns out, at first sight, promised to the descent. Yes, but Rowing has offered itself a weighty hinge, with the arrivals of Maxime Machenaud and Camille Lopez (66 tricolor selections and as many years between them). Several players experienced in the elite (Béthune, Buliruarua, Bosch) reinforce an already experienced promotion.
A tougher affair for Perpignan, which lost Melvyn Jaminet who left for Toulouse and his Argentinian winger Bautista Delguy (Clermont). Usap has certainly welcomed reinforcements (McIntyre, Laborde, Galletier), but it seems illusory to imagine it higher than 12th place.
Brive is in a similar situation. Already fair last year, the Coujous have lost a significant number of players. Even if winning in Corrèze is never easy, the CAB goes a long way.