5 Points Win: Toulon to Win Top 14 @ 2/1 (generally).
1.5 Points: Racing Metro to reach Top 14 Final @ 20/11 (888sport / Unibet)
1 Point: Castres to reach Top 14 Final @ 4/1 (888sport / Unibet)
European club rugby last season was dominated by Toulon. Despite looking jittery at times in the early completion stages, the ship was eventually steadied under Jonny Wilkinson and Toulonnais went on to complete a domestic and European double with relative ease. With the Top 14 teams back in pre-season training, many are wondering whether any other Top 14 rival can take Toulon’s crown this season?
My own view is clear. Some teams appear to carry each-way value, to reach the final and so on, but there’s only one team I’d put any money on to win it. Toulon.
Before we look at their main rivals, let’s look first at Toulon themselves. Jonny Wilkinson retired at the end of last season but the signing of Leigh Halfpenny has ensured there won’t be any let up in accuracy from the tee. And it may be heresy to say it, but I also believe the lifting of Wilkinson’s ultra-conservative style will benefit Toulon as it seemed to burden them at times last year. Added to Toulon’s ranks in the offseason are Wallaby James O’Connor, back rows Mamuka Gorgodze and Gerhard Vosloo from Montpellier and Clermont respectively, hooker Guilhem Guirado from Perpignan and second row Romain Taofifenua from Perpignan. And Bryan Habana should be like a new signing after a very poor first season in which he was extensively injured. All in all, they’re improved over last season and rank as the standout team to beat in all competitions.
Second favourites, Clermont, represent poor value at 4/1 (Sportingbet) in my opinion. They looked a shadow of their former selves for much of last season, especially when it mattered, have lost try scoring machine Sitiveni Sivivatu to Castres and haven’t added the breadth of talent needed to mount a serious challenge. Toulouse have finally secured a reliable out-half by luring Toby Flood from Leicester but they haven’t improved enough from last season to truly challenge Toulon. 5/1 (William Hill) is a good bit shorter than I’d be prepared to take them at.
Montpellier, Racing Metro and Castres are next in the betting.
Montpellier (11/2 Skybet & Winner) have sought to replace talisman Gorgodze with Wallaby Ben Mowen from Super XV side Brumbies, and have also added Akapusi Qera from Toulouse and the Racing duo of Antoine Battut and Benjamin Fall. They have quality to challenge but not to win it.
It took Racing Metro the majority of last season to click but they were beginning to look impressive towards the end of it. This season they’ve improved key positions by adding Brice Dulin and Antonie Claassen from Castres, Luke Charteris from Perpignan and Casey Laulala from Munster. Led by Jonny Sexton, and featuring Jamie Roberts , Dan Lydiate, Juandre Kruger, Brian Mujati and Sione Tonga’uiha, they can win it. 6/1 offers definite each-way value but I’m preferring 20/11 to Reach the Final instead (888sport) given Toulon’s strength.
Castres always seem to perform above themselves, don’t fear any team and have the know-how to always be close at the crunch end of the season. They’ve also added well in Sitiveni Sivivatu from Clermont and Johnnie Beattie from Montpellier. At 14/1, their price is massive given the pedigree they hold. But again, I think Toulon are better than them so 4/1 to Reach the Final is preferred.
Of the others, I don’t believe any win the Top 14. I won’t be taking them for any price.