The regular season is over in France with the Top 14 play-offs to come in a competition that goes on until the final at the Nou Camp, so which players have stood up over the season?
Each Monday Midi Olympique prints its standout XV selected from the weekend’s Top 14 matches. It’s a bit of fun but also an indication – albeit subjective – of who’s hot and who’s not in the French championship. With the regular season now finished in France, the 26 team selections published by Midi can be pored over to produce a Team of the Season based on the most number of selections by a player in each position.
Not surprisingly there are some famous faces in the Fantastic XV but there’s the odd surprise, and also one or two Frenchmen who despite producing consistent displays throughout the season have been overlooked by Guy Noves for this month’s tour to Argentina.
15. Gaitan Germain (Brive)
With 319 points this season, the 25-year-old Germain is the top scorer in the 2015-16 campaign, as he was in 2013-14 when his 299 points were superior to Jonny Wilkinson, James Hook and Jonathan Sexton. Selected in four Midi Olympique XVs, Germain still can’t get a sniff of a cap and was overlooked for the Argentina tour.
14. Josua Tuisova (Toulon)
The 22-year-old Fijian winger has taken the Top 14 by storm this season, combining pace and power with a wicked step and an eye for the try-line. His 11 tries may be three fewer than Montpellier’s Timoci Nagusa but his eight Midi Olympique selections are unrivalled this season.
13. Gaël Fickou (Toulouse)
Despite a season interrupted by World Cup and Six Nations duty, the 22-old Toulouse centre proved he’s regaining his confidence after the Philippe Saint-Andre era with four selections, enough to see off the challenge of veteran Racing 92 centre Henry Chavancy.
12. Toby Flood (Toulouse)
The former England threequarter had a superb start to the season, making five appearances in the first ten Midi Olympique XVs with four in the centre and one nomination at fly-half. Though his form slipped away in the second half of the season the 30-year-old Toulouse centre still makes the cut.
11. Juan Imhoff (Racing 92)
Imhoff didn’t appear for Racing until November because of World Cup commitments with Argentina, but the 28-year-old quickly slipped back into the groove. Other wings scored more tries but it’s Imhoff’s all-round contribution that earned him three appearances in the Midi Olympique XVs
10. Jonathan Wisniewski (Grenoble) /Benjamín Urdapilleta (Castres)
The 30-year-old Frenchman and Argentine Urdapilleta were each selected three times by Midi Olympique, no surprise given the consistency of their goal-kicking and the quality of their all-round game allied to sharp decision-making. Not that it did Wisniewski much good as he was passed over by Noves for the Argentina tour.
9. Sébastien Bézy (Toulouse)
Like Toulouse teammate Toby Flood, the 24-year-old scrum-half was on fire in the first half of the season, winning five selections in the Midi XVs. Then came a call-up to France’s Six Nations squad and that chastening experience in a struggling Bleus side clearly affected Bézy’s confidence and he hasn’t been nominated since the end of January.
1. Lucas Pointud (Brive)
The 28-year-old loosehead has been the form French prop in the Top 14 season, using his 6ft 2 and 19st frame to anchor the Brive scrum. His impact hasn’t gone unnoticed by Midi Olympique, who selected him six times in their weekly XV, though the French selectors keep ignoring Pointud’s credentials.
2. Jody Jenneker (Oyonnax)/Arnaud Heguy (Grenoble)/Camille Chat (Racing 92/ Guillaume Ribes (Brive) /Bismarck Du Plessis (Montpellier)
The one position in the XV where there was no outstanding player. Two veteran South African hookers in Du Plessis and Jenneker won a couple of Midi Olympique selections, as did two French stalwarts in Ribes and Heguy, while 20-year-old Racing hooker Camille Chat also appeared twice in his breakthrough season.
3. Uini Atonio (La Rochelle)
New Zealand-born Atonio isn’t everyone’s idea of a modern tighthead prop, but the 23-stone La Rochelle giant is a consistent performer for his side. He was selected four times by Midi Olympique, just edging out France international rival Rabah Slimani who earned three nominations.
4. Hendrik Roodt (Grenoble) and Rodrigo Capó Ortega (Castres)
A South African and South American get a half each alongside Paul Willemse in the second row with both Roodt and Capó Ortega being nominated three times in Midi’s team of the week. The Uruguayan, now 35, has racked up more than 325 appearances in 14 seasons at Castres, while the 28-year-old Roodt is a formidable ball carrier for Grenoble.
5. Paul Willemse (Montpellier)
Surely the best uncapped lock in world rugby this season, the 23-year-old former Baby Bok has been immense in Jake White‘s Montpellier, starting all but four of their Top 14 matches. A mighty presence in the set-piece, Willemse has also scored seven tries this season in all competitions and earned six Midi Olympique selections.
6. Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe (Toulon)
He may be in his 35th year but Fernández Lobbe remains one of the most reliable and effective flankers in the world game. Despite missing the first three months of the Top 14 season because of the World Cup, the Argentine made four appearances in the Midi XV
7. Wiaan Liebenberg (Montpellier)
Captain of the Baby Boks when they won the U20 World Championship in 2012, Liebenberg arrived in Montpellier last year and has been a superb performer in the back-row, winning turnovers and making 251 tackles with a success rate of 96%. Nominated four times he gets the vote ahead of Toulouse’s Tala Gray.
8. Rory Grice (Grenoble)
One of the most astute overseas signings in the Top 14 in recent seasons, the former Waikato No8 arrived in Grenoble in 2014 and has dazzled with his athleticism and footballing skills. The 26-year-old Grice was selected four times by Midi Olympique, squeezing out Montpellier’s Alex Tulou and Duane Vermeulen of Toulon, who both earned three nominations.