Montpellier to build on solid start
Thu, 12 Sep 2013 11:15
I haven't worn a rugby shirt for nearly three years
Montpellier are undoubtedly the in-form team of the Top 14, a 25-0 drubbing of 19-time champions Toulouse setting them in good stead for this weekend's match against Perpignan.
Fabien Galthie's side sit second in the French league, one point adrift of European champions Toulon.
But their dismantling of Toulouse last weekend was a sign of what they are capable of.
Led by France flank Fulgence Ouedraogo, who will miss the Perpignan match through injury, Montpellier offer a hard-nosed defence aligned with a willingness to run the ball, playmaker Francois Trinh-Duc seemingly regaining his best form outside irrepressible halfback partner Jonathan Pelissie.
"We've played some good matches which we've lost and we played a good match which we won," lock Thibaut Privat said after the victory over Toulouse, the first time the club had been held scoreless since 2008.
Assistant coach Mario Ledesma, the former Argentina hooker, added: "It's incredible to maintain such an intensity against a team as physical as Toulouse.
"If we keep that spirit, it's going to go very well."
Bankrolled by Syrian-born businessman Mohed Altrad, Montpellier's ranks will be further boosted with the arrival of destructive All Black centre Rene Ranger, Free State Cheetahs centre Robert Ebersohn (South Africa), Australian lock Sitaleki Timani and Springbok centre Wynand Olivier.
Perpignan welcome back a raft of front-line players rested in last week's 16-19 defeat by Racing-Metro, like all other clubs, a third match in a tight eight or nine-day window.
Toulouse backs coach Jean-Baptiste Elissalde called on his team to react after their humiliating loss to Montpellier, which gave the record league champions three defeats from their opening five games, their worst ever start to the Top 14.
"At this level, given the potential of the players we picked to run out, we expected more commitment," the former France scrumhalf said, with Toulouse to host struggling Biarritz on Saturday.
"You can't go out on a pitch with so little desire.
"Some of our leaders let us down. We're trying to understand what happened and we must react from this coming weekend."
League leaders Toulon, who consigned Biarritz to the foot of the table with a 24-13 away victory last Sunday, travel to Castres on Saturday.
Castres were the surprise winners of the Top 14 last season, pipping Toulon in the Final, but they suffered a shock defeat last week at the hands of newly-promoted Oyonnax.
The latest big-name signing for Toulon is World Cup winner Juan Smith, the 32-year-old Springbok back row forward returning to the playing field fold after not playing since February 2011 due to an Achilles injury that required five operations.
"I haven't worn a rugby shirt for nearly three years so it's a huge privilege to wear Toulon's shirt," said the 2007 World Cup winner.
"I don't think there's a better team than Toulon with which to start playing again."
Although many believed he would never play again, Smith has passed all the necessary medicals and is raring to go.
"It's already been six months since my last operation, there's no risk of breaking down again, I'm ready to play this weekend or next weekend," said the 69-times capped Springbok.
Stade Francais, impressive 23-18 winners over Clermont last week, entertain Brive looking for a third home win at their refurbished Jean-Bouin stadium.
Clermont meanwhile face Grenoble seeking a 63rd home match without defeat at the Stade Marcel Michelin.
In other matches, Bordeaux-Begles host Oyonnax and Racing-Metro travel to Bayonne.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Friday, September 13: Perpignan v Montpellier (16.45)
Saturday, September 14: Castres v Toulon (12.55), Bordeaux-Begles v Oyonnax, Clermont v Grenoble, Stade Francais v Brive, Toulouse v Biarritz (all 16.30), Bayonne v Racing-Metro (18.35)
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