THERE ARE still moments when Antonie Claassen has to pinch himself. Can it really be true? A French international and in the final of the Top 14? “It is hard to believe at times,” says the South African-born No8. “This time last year I was at about the lowest point of my career and now here I am, I’ve played for France and I’m about to play in my first Top 14 final. I couldn’t have dreamt of a better season.”
Posted 22 days ago
Posted 35 days ago
IT’S A funny old game, rugby, as Jamie Noon will testify. Son of Yorkshire, servant of Newcastle and now stalwart of Brive, the former England centre brings down the curtain on his professional career on Sunday, in Bordeaux of all places, about as far removed from Goole as you could wish to find. True, they’re both ports, but there’s not much sun, and even less wine, in the Yorkshire town where Noon was born 34 years ago.
Posted 42 days ago
IT IS, as they say, the business end of the season, with play-offs in both the Aviva Premiership and the Top 14 this weekend. The difference being that in France the top two clubs at the end of the regular season can put their feet up and look on as the four clubs below battle it out for the right to meet them in the semi-final of France’s never-ending domestic season on May 24/25.
Posted 43 days ago
FOUR CONSECUTIVE play-off appearances point to a team consistently vying for the top echelons of French rugby. Yet Castres remain the quiet outsiders as the likes of Clermont and Toulon steal much of the limelight. Christophe Samson is a man who has played at both those clubs and now, at 29, finds himself flourishing at the heart of the Castres pack.
Posted 43 days ago
THIS IS your chance to see who will be next to lift the Bouclier de Brennus at Stade de France on Saturday 1 June. TV5MONDE – the international French-language channel that broadcasts Top 14 matches live in the UK – has a pair of VIP seats to the final to give away in this great competition, as well as return UK travel, two night’s accommodation in Paris and all transfers.
Posted 55 days ago
MUNSTER SHOULD be afraid. Very afraid. On Saturday evening in the semi-final of the Heineken Cup they will encounter a Clermont side at the top of their game. So what if an estimated 5,000 of the ‘Red Army’ will descend on Montpellier’s Stade de la Mosson for the mouthwatering clash; Clermont have enlisted 22,000 foot soldiers, and every one expects their boys to do to Munster what they did last week to Toulouse – thrash them.
Posted 57 days ago
THE RHETORIC of battles is always used in professional rugby, as if the weeks of weights and hours of Xbox were shared experiences with servicemen and women garrisoned around the globe. The battle of the breakdown, the scrap at the set piece and more commonly the fight for the title and the relegation dog-fight.
Posted 61 days ago
THERE’LL BE a new face in the Top 14 next season, captained by an old face , and an English one at that. Former Bristol flanker Joe El-Abd joined Oyonnax last summer after three seasons with Toulon, a stint on the Cote d’Azur that had him sharing a dressing room with some of the greats of the game: Jonny Wilkinson, Sonny Bill Williams, George Smith and Tana Umaga to name but a few.
Posted 71 days ago
CAUGHT BETWEEN the Devil and a deep red rage, Nathan Hines angered the people of Perpignan in 2009 by skipping the Top 14 final in order to travel to South Africa with the British and Irish Lions. That year Perpignan triumphed without the oversized lock, besting Clermont Auvergne, Hines current club, 22-13.
Posted 72 days ago