The French Top 10 began this weekend, and the opening results have underlined one of the greatest concerns voiced by opponents of the new structure.
The league phase of the Top 10 this year consists of two five-team pools – and whoever finishes bottom will be instantly relegated.
Two years ago the then champions Perpignan lost their opening game to newly-promoted Lille. It was a set-back, but with the whole league programme ahead of them in the league the Catalans were able to put the game behind them and go on to reach the semi-finals.
This year Perpignan have again (and arguably surprisingly) lost their opening game, this time to Bobigny, by 30-22. But whereas in 2011 they had 17 games more to put things right, this year they have just seven.
What is more they are not alone. Lons – champions the following year and semi-finalists last season – lost their opening game as well, going down 20-5 to newly promoted La Valette. After an even first half, where Vanessa Dolcerrocca’s 5th minute try for La Valette was balanced by Lise Arricastre’s score on 24 minutes, Dolcerrocca’s second score 15 minutes into the second half put the home side ahead. A Romero penalty ten minutes later left Lons chasing the game – and Maiwenn Le Guevel made victory certain in the final minute of the game.
A shock result? Surprise perhaps, but if you look deeper La Valette are a side with great potential. A young team with several U20 internationals (such as Le Guevel, and Maeva N’Diaye), they have had a superb record in the national sevens in recent years – and have two players in the national training squad (Sophie Pin and Laetitia Salles) – the same as Lons. In fact, La Valette are just like Lille were before they burst on the scene two years ago. This could be the team to watch this year.
However, both Perpignan and Lons lost while on the road – and will have chance for revenge at home at the end of October. Blagnac St Orens and Bordeaux, on the other hand, lost their opening games at home. “BSORF” may have a new name and home, but they had little answer to Rennes who gradually wore them down. Three penalties from Sandrine Agricole turned the screw – and brought reward when the increasingly desperate home team gave away the ball on their own try line, allowing Agricole in. BSORF fly-half Laura Escande scored a consolation try five minutes later, but it was too little too late, Rennes taking the game 16-7.
Bordeaux, who struggled most of last season, were unlucky to start against the team that is possibly in the best form. Caen, who had destroyed leading second division team Chilly Mazarin 61-0 away last weekend, picked up the weekend’s only winning bonus, winning 27-5.
Next week in Pool 1 Caen face Bobigny at home – and Bordeaux have to travel to champions Montpellier. Meanwhile in Pool 2 Lille open with a fascinating game against La Valette, while Lons hope to put things right against BSORF.