Top 14

Racing begin Top 14 defence, Stade Francais hope to put nightmare behind them

This weekend sees the return of the Top 14, eight weeks on from Racing 92's impressive victory over Toulon in the 2015-16 final at Barcelona's iconic Camp Nou.

Those two powerhouses look set to feature strongly again this time around, but who else is likely to be in the end-of-season shake-up come June?

Bayonne and Lyon are back in the top flight after promotion last season, while a plethora of household names are set to excite French fans once more over the next 10 months.

 

THE USUAL SUSPECTS

Victory in June ended Racing's 26-year wait for glory in this competition, an all the more impressive feat given they also contested the European Champions Cup final, which they lost to Saracens.

In contrast, defeat for Toulon saw them go without silverware for the first time since 2012, something Diego Dominguez's side will be keen to put right this time around.

Clermont Auvergne topped the league by six points but were ultimately undone by Racing in agonising fashion, going down 34-33 after extra time in the last four.

Montpellier were the other losing semi-finalists and, under the leadership of World Cup winning coach Jake White, cannot be discounted.

 

THE FALLEN GIANTS

Stade Francais were champions in 2014-15, but endured a dismal defence of that crown last season.

Just nine wins - half as many as champions Racing - saw them finish one place above the bottom two, although a healthy 15-point cushion meant relegation was never a realistic possibility.

Alipate Ratini represents their sole new arrival in the off-season thus far, but a squad boasting the likes of Sergio Parisse, Jules Plisson and Morne Steyn should be concerning itself with the top six, not the bottom two.

 

THE NEW BOYS

Oyonnax and Agen were cut adrift last season, and have been replaced by Lyon and Bayonne.

Both clubs have bounced back at the first attempt, and runaway Pro D2 champions Lyon have recruited impressively with Franco Mostert, Delon Armitage and the enigmatic Frederic Michalak all arriving.

 

THE BIG NAMES

Destructive wingers Joe Tomane and Nemani Nadolo arrive to boost Montpellier's push.

Back-row forward Steffon Armitage has moved from Toulon to Pau, while New Zealand legend Ali Williams is out of retirement to aid Racing's defence of the title, joining fellow former All Black Dan Carter.

Japan superstar Ayumu Goromaru joins Toulon having failed to impress at Queensland Reds, and Brive's Gaetan Germain will hope for another successful season after he topped the scoring charts in 2015-16 with 319 points.