Struggling La Rochelle and Toulon under early pressure in Top 14

Paris (AFP) –


While European and French champions Toulouse have started this season as they ended the last, two of the teams who would have expected to challenge, La Rochelle and Toulon, have made nightmare starts to the Top 14.

La Rochelle lost to Toulouse in both the Top 14 and European finals last season, but instead of taking the next step they have gone backwards this time under new head coach Ronan O'Gara.

After defeat at Montpellier last weekend, they have won just one of their five games and sit 13th in the 14-team table.

"Last season is over," said France back-row forward Gregory Aldritt.

"We have to stop thinking and talking about it. This is a new season, with a new squad, a new staff, a new league. Let's start by getting our heads in the right place and stop looking back."

La Rochelle host fourth-place Castres on Saturday, the visitors have won three and drawn one of their five matches, but their one defeat was a thrashing by last-place Stade Francais which leaves them with a negative points difference.

Last week Castres comfortably beat Toulon to leave the three-time European champion also languishing near the foot of the table with just one victory.

Last season was a relative disaster for Toulon, who finished eighth in the table. Their star-studded squad has failed to rebound.

On Thursday, Bernard Lemaitre, who took over as president in February gave the dreaded vote of confidence ahead of Saturday's home game with third-place Brive.

Lemaitre told a press conference "results are not satisfactory" but insisted he did not wish to "set an ultimatum" to the players or coach Patrice Collazo.

He then seemed to do exactly that: saying the club leadership would make "an assessment" after the next three games.

He added that he was "not able to say" what his reaction would be in case of a home loss and that he "shared the discontent of supporters".

Pushed around: Castres full back Geoffrey Palis prepares to hand off  wing Gabin Villiere as Toulon lost agaon last week
Pushed around: Castres full back Geoffrey Palis prepares to hand off wing Gabin Villiere as Toulon lost agaon last week Fred SCHEIBER AFP/File

"There will not be two seasons like last year," he said, repeating that he wanted the club to finish in the top six and qualify for the playoffs.

"The objective is still of qualifying," he said.

Meanwhile, Toulouse have already built a six-point lead at the top of the table and host mid-table Pau on Saturday.

Toulouse played what coach Ugo Mola this week called a "disastrous half" at Biarritz last weekend but were lifted when France scrum half Antoine Dupont came off the bench to create two tries as they eked out a 16-11 victory.

Pau, Mola insisted, had a "strong squad" and his team would be "vigilant".

Fixtures (1300 GMT unless stated)


Biarritz v Lyon, Bordeaux Begles v Montpellier, La Rochelle v Castres, Racing v Perpignan, Toulouse v Pau (1500), Toulon v Brive (1905)


Stade Francais v Clermont (1905)