Is there a professional league as tight as the French Top 14?
It's hard to find one. After three weeks the league has played 21 games, two of which were ties, and six more were within a try. This includes last week's all-out drama for Toulon over Castres, and a Toulouse vs La Rochelle game that looked like a blowout, only for the Toulouse coaches to bite their nails in the closing moments.
(That game was also a superb advertisement for the bonus point system, as La Rochell got within seven points thanks to a determined comeback that ultimately failed — but did garner a small dividend.)
So what's next? La Rochelle hosts winless Perpignan, and that's a key game in the battle to stay in the hunt. Perpignan is 0-3, but it has been a competitive 0-3, and Toulon has shown how quickly fortunes can change.
Toulon, now all flush with last week's win, will have to take on Stade Francais in Paris without captain Mathieu Bastareaud, who laid an unforgivable forearm on the unprotected Christophe Samson (see above). Bastareaud has since apologized to his fans and acknowledged that he had crossed a line.
"I have the experience; I'm an international; I have responsibilities; I am the captain ... but unfortunately, I've crossed a line," Bastareaud said (translated from the French). We don't know how long the skipper will be out, but he's not playing this weekend ... correction, he is. Every single person in French rugby expected the Toulon captain to be held out of the squad, but he's playing, which makes no sense because Bastareaud is going to be suspended and he might as well start serving the suspension.
What we will see from Toulon is a team that made 70 out of 80 tackles and held possession for 59 percent of the game against Castres. Paris, meanwhile, is 2-1 but was knocked around last weekend by the still-undefeated Clermont 42-20.
Stade got a red card of its own, with New Zealander Tony Ensor in serious trouble for a very nasty tip tackle that could have severely injured Flip van der Merwe. The score was 30-13 at the time, and afterward Clermont scored two tries.
So Toulon wants more of the same, and Stade wants to get back on track.
Some Fun Stats
Clermont has scored as many tries as the bottom three clubs combined.
Bordeaux-Begles boasts the best defense so far — tied for fewest points allowed (with Montpellier) and the fewest tries allowed.
Three players — Kylan Hamdaoui of Stade Francais, Virimi Vakatawa of Racing 92, and Peter Behtem of Clermont — lead the league with three tries.
French Top 14 Standings After 3 Rounds