2023 Stade Toulousain vs RC Toulonnais

Top 14 Round 10 Match Of The Week: Powerhouses Toulouse And Toulon Clash

Top 14 Round 10 Match Of The Week: Powerhouses Toulouse And Toulon Clash

Toulouse will be looking to extend its white-hot Champions Cup form into domestic play against Toulon, which has won four straight matches in the league.

Dec 22, 2023 by Briar Napier
Top 14 Round 10 Match Of The Week: Powerhouses Toulouse And Toulon Clash

The holiday season is no time to rest in club rugby, and that’s especially true in the Top 14.

Only a week after eight clubs from France’s top division battled it out with the rest of Europe and South Africa’s best in the opening two rounds the Champions Cup, the Top 14 grind is back, as the country’s best rugby clubs return to beating up on each other, rather than those from other nations.

Two historic names in French rugby, Toulouse and Toulon, are slated to clash to cap off Round 10 inside a storied ground in the country’s sports scene. 

It’s a match that usually has its share of tension and stakes behind it anyway, but this season, with inconsistent form each way in all competitions, it could end up being a season-defining fixture — for better or for worse — for each club, too.

If watching two of France’s rugby titans duke it out on a pristine pitch in front of thousands of screaming supporters sounds like a perfect Christmas present to you … well, it does to us, too.

Here’s a look at the match of the week for Round 10 of the Top 14 season, as Toulouse hosts Toulon on Saturday:

The Boost Toulouse Needed?

There’s little argument against the fact that Toulouse’s start to the Top 14 campaign has been a bit rocky. 

The reigning French champion, Toulouse, won five of its first nine domestic ties — not anything to disregard, by any means — to place sixth at the first European break, a bit off of the pace with the upper tier of teams jostling at the top of the table. 

But once Toulouse got to Champions Cup play over the past two weekends, it was as if the club had switched gears and suddenly got its mojo back. 

Arguably the best-looking side throughout two rounds in the pool stages, Toulouse annihilated Cardiff and Harlequins in quick succession to top Pool B on a +73 point differential, the best of any team in the competition to date. 

Can the sudden surge in form follow Toulouse back to its domestic league? Time will tell, but the good news does keep piling up for coach Ugo Mola and his men. 

Star man Romain Ntamack showed off on social media this week that he’s back to light training after rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in a Rugby World Cup warm-up match, and though he won't be suiting up this weekend, the impending returns of Italian starlet Ange Capuozzo and Argentine fullback Juan Cruz Mallia appear to be gaining stride. 

History has shown that Europe’s most successful club, when it is down, often isn’t kept under for long; will it overcome cases of early-season jitters and take charge up the Top 14 table in an emphatic fashion against Toulon this weekend?

Toulon’s Topsy-Turvy Time

No club in France has looked better than Toulon in the Top 14 over the past four league games, being the only side in the competition to win four straight fixtures while doing it against a gauntlet of Racing 92, Clermont, Castres and Pau — all but one of which are currently joined in the top four of the standings with second-placed Toulon. 

But in opposite fashion to their weekend opponents, RCT had a Champions Cup stretch to forget during the continental break period. 

Close losses to the Exeter Chiefs and the Northampton Saints of the Premiership in Pool C play saw Toulon sit at the bottom of the pool after two rounds, leaving qualifications for the knockout rounds — or even dropping down into the Challenge Cup, which the club won a season ago — a tricky task if victories don’t come soon and/or results don’t favor Pierre Mignoni’s squad. 

A strong win at Toulouse, however, in one of the most imposing places to play in French rugby, could whip Toulon right back into shape as a serious Top 14 title threat, as the club seeks its first domestic crown in a decade. 

Look for a potential league debut for rapid New Zealand winger Leicester Fainga’anuku, who signed with the French club in the offseason and played for the All Blacks in the World Cup, helping them to a runner-up finish. 

He made his debut for Toulon against the Saints, starting and playing all 80 minutes, as his club was brought down with a late try. 

He and others on the squad will be hoping for better days in La Ville Rose in their return to Top 14 play.

Christmastime Clash

The holiday season is doing little to slow down what should be one of the premier fixtures on the remainder of the Top 14’s 2023 calendar. 

Inside the massive Stadium de Toulouse, an electric atmosphere should be in the cards just in time for Christmas weekend, as a sellout in excess of 33,000 people could be in play. 

It’s clear what Toulouse and Toulon each want for Christmas and beyond, however: stable footing for a late-season charge with now over a third of the Top 14 season gone. 

Toulouse has been battered by injuries, a fact that’s already been touched on in this piece, but it still will be without multiple full senior internationals against Toulon, as prop Dorian Aldegheri, lock Thibaud Flament and others, won’t be suiting up, leaving Toulouse to once again need to fill in starting slots for the time being and get through the squad rotation to build consistency and squad depth and experience. 

Toulon, meanwhile, can’t really afford to lose too much ground in the title race and make its strong recent Top 14 games for nought, even with the 2023-2024 campaign still being in its early stages; first-place Racing and fifth-place Stade Francais are separated by just two points in the standings, for instance.

Though there are no “easy” matches in the brutal Top 14, Racing and Stade Francais’ fixtures in Round 10 against newly promoted Oyonnax and a sputtering La Rochelle, respectively — both at home for the Parisian clubs — could be matches with bonus-point potential, if they get out to flyers right away. 

Holiday hangovers are not what Toulouse nor Toulon need at the moment, and with plenty at stake in what should be a frenzied showcase, something must give in a match with a plethora of potential implications.