Toulouse seek Bayonne tonic to boost flat start
Champions Toulouse will bid to get the defence of their Top 14 title back on track when they travel to Bayonne in French league action on Friday.
Toulouse, 19-time winners of the French championship and a record four-time winner of the European Cup, are one of the undisputed all-time heavyweights in the world of club rugby union.
But the start to this season has not been all rosy, with two defeats in their opening five encounters drawing suggestions from some quarters that they are a team in crisis.
References have already even been made to sealing one of the six end-of-season play-off spots in the fiercely Top 14 league where the spectre of relegation makes every game “un choc”.
“Competitive sport is made up of good moments, less good ones, successes and failures,” said Guy Noves, the phlegmatic long-time Toulouse coach.
“This weekend was more of a failure. However, it doesn’t lead me to question the work put in over many years. It is imperative, though, that we work hard and that will help us rebound and play better in our next match.” Toulouse lost 34-20 to Perpignan on Saturday — having trailed 27-6 at half-time — to leave them fifth in the Top 14 table seven points off unbeaten leaders Toulon after five matches.
“This is simply a team that is in the process of finding its reference points, who have experienced three successful years and who naturally believe the serious part of the season only gets under way in the play-offs,” said Noves.
“It is true that for 19 years we have regularly been involved in the title play-offs, and that has contributed to this lax attitude at the beginning of the season where one says that things only become important a little later.
“However, the players must realise that points lost are never recovered.
“Certain teams paid dearly in the past for such laxity and we don’t want to be one of them.” Perhaps a Friday night outing against Bayonne might not be a bad bet for Toulouse, the Basque club also having found it tough to discover their own rhythm in early season.
After two defeats at home (13-6 against Clermont and 25-18 against Racing-Metro), Bayonne sit in 11th spot having notched up a sole victory (24-11 over Stade Francais on August 25) in their opening five matches.
And Bayonne coach Christian Lanta was in no doubt that his side had to turn themselves around, and quickly.
“The best thing is to get back playing very quickly, to avoid dwelling too long on issues,” Lanta said.
“That’s not to say you mustn’t examine what happened, have a debrief and target what didn’t work on Saturday against Racing.” Lanta admitted that the team had suffered too many defeats in recent seasons, but the fact they avoided relegation showed they were true competitors.
“Even if the squad is in difficulty, it is sound. They want to win, to have this match which can take them forward.
“Magic potions do not exist, it’s a long process that is carrying on. We knew that this start to the season would be complicated, that we needed to win some matches.
Saturday’s line-up see league leaders Toulon host Castres in the early match, with a starting half-back pairing of Frederic Michalak and Jonny Wilkinson likely to be lining up for the first time.
Second-placed Clermont host Grenoble while third-placed Biarritz travel to Paris to play Racing-Metro in the late game.
Across the French capital, Stade Francais host Perpignan earlier in the day, while Bordeaux-Begles entertain Montpellier, and winless Mont-de-Marsan welcome Agen in search of their first victory.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Friday Bayonne v Toulouse (1850)
Saturday Toulon v Castres (1300), Bordeaux-Begles v Montpellier, Clermont v Grenoble, Mont-de-Marsan v Agen, Stade Francais v Perpignan (all 1630), Racing Metro v Biarritz (1840)