Preview: La Rochelle in Toulon test of mettle
TOP 14 ROUND SIX: La Rochelle face a true test of their ambitions when they travel to big-spending Toulon on the weekend.
The western Atlantic team, driven by outstanding All Black No 8 and Top 14 player of the season Victor Vito, finished atop the regular season standings last year, only to be knocked out in the play-offs involving the top six clubs.
While that came as surprise to many, all seems to again be running its course this season, with La Rochelle sitting in second a point off leaders Montpellier and fresh off a 57-12 mauling of Oyonnax.
"What interests us is what's coming up and to prepare for who awaits us," La Rochelle coach Patrice Collazo said of Toulon after the Oyonnax match.
Toulon president Mourad Boudjellal's latest star recruit, however, will not be lined up against La Rochelle.
Semi Radradra is the latest in a long line of signings for Toulon, the giant Fijian centre/winger having joined on a one-year contract, with the option of another, from the Parramatta Eels in Australia's NRL.
Elected best winger in the NRL in both 2014 and 2015 seasons, Radradra's favoured XVs position is centre, Boudjellal admitting his signing was a "bet that was a little crazy but measured".
"Either he'll be the star of the Top 14 or he won't adapt!" he said of the 25-year-old who played union until the age of 20.
Toulon will welcome back Francois Trinh-Duc to the squad after the France fly-half sat out last week's 19-15 victory over Stade Francais.
Back row forwards Raphael Lakafia and Juandre Kruger also make their return from respective injuries.
Early league leaders Montpellier play struggling Brive at home on Sunday, no doubt eager to atone for their 47-17 defeat by Bordeaux-Begles last week.
Brive, however, will arrive on the south coast with a host of their own problems, winless in their opening five games having conceded a whopping 157 points.
Coach Philippe Carbonneau, the fiery former France scrumhalf, stepped down on Wednesday, the duo of Jean-Baptiste Pejoine and Sebastien Bonnet taking charge.
"After six seasons at the club, I think I need to stop and have a break," said Carbonneau.
"I've never shirked from anything in my career and I know that today the players need a new message, something else."
Third-placed Lyon, on the same 18 points as La Rochelle, travel to fifth-placed Racing 92, while Toulouse, in fourth are without ex-All Black prop Charlie Faumuina for up to five weeks with a thigh injury, take on Agen.
Pau host Stade Francais, struggling in 13th spot, and Castres entertain champions Clermont in Sunday's second game.