2023 Racing 92 vs Stade Rochelais

Top 14 Round 8 Preview: Racing 92 Push Championship Credentials

Top 14 Round 8 Preview: Racing 92 Push Championship Credentials

Racing 92 is gunning for its first Top 14 championship since 2016 with an assortment of powerful new additions making a difference across the pitch.

Nov 25, 2023 by Briar Napier
Top 14 Round 8 Preview: Racing 92 Push Championship Credentials

With first and seventh place in the Top 14 separated by only five points, there isn’t a lot of room for error in France’s top flight of professional club rugby.

Multiple fixtures this weekend will be sure to shake up the table one way or another, as some of the most powerful teams in the country (and in Europe) square off. This weekend marks the end of the first third of the Top 14 campaign.

Who will step forward and push up the table as the early-season wrinkles begin to fade away and some of the best rugby on the planet already gets even better?

Here’s a look ahead at what’s at stake in Round 8 in the Top 14 this weekend, including top storylines and the match of the round:

Battle At The Top

Stade Francais and Racing 92’s clash in Round 7, even this early in the season, already had the feel of a potential title decider, and it lived up to the hype, as the two titans of French rugby went toe to toe. 

In a rematch of a semifinal qualifier from a season ago, Racing repeated the result it got against its metro Paris rivals by snatching a tight and tense 13-9 victory, moving it level on points (23) with Stade Francais at the top of the Top 14 table. 

South African fly-half Tristan Tedder’s 18th-minute try helped Racing get the job done, as Stade Francais — with the result seeing it give up ground at the top of the league — was only able to muster up a trio of Joris Segonds penalties in its efforts to get on the scoresheet. 

On great form, as it’s now won four of its past five matches (a five-point defeat to Toulon in Round 6 was the only misstep), Racing has a major opportunity ahead of it this weekend (more on what that is all about later on in this article) to emphatically take the top spot of the league with the midseason grind really gets into full swing. 

Having last been the French champion in 2016, Racing — not lacking for strong sides, as evidenced by its three European Rugby Champions Cup final appearances over the past decade, all of which were defeats — has been waiting for its shot to earn some silverware, and multiple strong victories against title rivals could be the catalyst the club needs to get back to the mountaintop. 

A squad full of elite, senior-level internationals (including some potentially crucial new additions) certainly helps Racing’s fight in that regard, as well.

A Sputtering Toulouse

Stade Toulousain, the reigning and defending French champion and one of the continent's most powerful clubs, hasn’t seemed to completely find a formula to success yet in the 2023-2024 Top 14 campaign. 

Its 31-23 loss to Castres in Round 7, in particular, got chaotic and was perhaps indicative of many of Toulouse’s problems at the moment, including struggles to string together an entire 80-minute match. 

In what proved to be one of the best fixtures of the season thus far, a back-and-forth first half saw Toulouse up by a point after 40 minutes, then go 15 points down with 20 minutes to play by way of a pair of Castres tries after the intermission from Andrea Cocagi and Tom Staniforth. 

A penalty try and a score from Guillaume Cramont in a five-minute span brought Toulouse back to within a point at the 65-minute mark at 24-23, but a second try from Staniforth in the match’s final stanza sealed the deal for Castres and sunk Toulouse down to seventh in the table with four wins and three losses, though the club is five points back of table-topping Stade Francais as of this writing in a congested top half. 

Clermont Auvergne, which in sixth place is ahead of Toulouse by a point, faces the 22-time French top-flight winners next, as Le Stade has a chance to leapfrog clubs and improve its standing with a victory against Montferrand. 

The signing of Scotland international and fullback Blair Kinghorn to the club from Edinburgh, as confirmed by Toulouse on Thursday, could help give the club a boost with World Cup standout Melvyn Jaminet now on his way out to Toulon, but with Kinghorn not expected to join the side until early next month, Toulouse has got to look ahead at what it has ahead — and who it currently has at its disposal — before getting too much ahead of itself.

Match Of The Round: Racing 92 Vs. La Rochelle

If Racing 92 truly wants to show that it belongs in the conversation to be a Top 14 title contender this campaign, arguably, no win over any other opponent would send as louder of a message to the rest of the league than if the club was able to take down La Rochelle this weekend. 

The back-to-back Champions Cup winner and Top 14 finalist in two of the past three seasons, Stade Rochelais is the grandest success story of French club rugby this century, but its ongoing push toward finally snatching a top-flight crown this season has been full of missteps and mishaps early on. 

Currently in an unfamiliar eighth place after losses to the likes of Montpellier and Oyonnax, wins in consecutive weeks against Bayonne and Bordeaux Begles seemingly have indicated that Les Maritimes are going back in the right direction, though they’re still waiting for that signature win against power to help them truly get back on track. 

Taking down Racing 92 could be a great way to do that, but the Nanterre-based club has been beginning to unleash several new transfers that could make (or already are making). 

Two-time World Cup-winning Springboks captain Siya Kolisi made the move in the offseason from the Sharks to Racing, bringing unparalleled leadership to the pitch, and when England wonderkid Henry Arundell made his debut for Racing against Toulon in Round 6, he scored a spectacular hat trick in his first game in France at club level after exiting London Irish following the club’s move into administration. 

There are plenty of stakes on each side of the pitch, but for different reasons — only heightening what’s up for grabs even more.