CHAMPIONS CUP – Only three French clubs (La Rochelle, Toulouse, Montpellier) qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions Cup. An anomaly since the launch of the new competition formula.
A carnage from the group stage. Since the introduction of the new formula, with 24 teams divided into two pools of 12, French clubs have won each edition (Toulouse in 2021, La Rochelle in 2022). France dominated world rugby in 2022, but the new year begins with bad news. With only three representatives in the round of 16 of the Champions Cup, it’s a completely failed group stage campaign for the Top 14 clubs. A disappointing result, with the added bonus of a catastrophic group A where the four clubs were eliminated.
Although disappointing for Castres Olympique, seeing the Tarn club underperform in the European Cup has unfortunately almost become the norm. It’s been more than four years since Benjamin Urdapilleta’s partners won the Champions Cup, losing their two games this season in their lair, yet so impregnable in the league. With no points taken in four games, Castres leaves the Champions Cup through the back door but will be able to focus on the Top 14, his goal each season.
Bordeaux and Clermont, a violent downgrade
Clermont, with its seventh place last year, had not been spoiled in the draw. With the champion of England, Leicester, and the champion of the URC (United Rugby Championship), the Stormers, difficult to do worse. But after an initial victory against the Stormers and knowing the long history of the Jaunards with the European Cup, it was hard to see them being eliminated from the start. Their encouraging performance in England with a defensive bonus could even be a positive sign, but all their efforts were wiped out in a failed return phase. A heavy defeat at home, an empty trip to South Africa, a coach fired for the first time in almost 20 years, the Clermontois disappointed. Reversed in the Challenge Cup, Clermont will discover this competition under the orders of Christophe Urios.
For Bordeaux, it is more surprising. With Gloucester and the Sharks, Matthieu Jalibert’s partners had a card to play. Defeated narrowly during the first two days, the UBB probably lost its hopes of qualification at that time. Even more cruel for Julien Laïrle’s men, they knew they were eliminated before even returning to the lawn of their last match. With four defeats in as many games, the Bordelo-Bèglais come out of all the European cups. A brutal downgrade for those who were in the semi-finals of this same competition in 2021 (defeat against Toulouse).
Frustration for Lyon and Racing
Lyon will have regrets about his elimination. With eight points in four games, including a bonus victory against Bulls at Gerland, the LOU had put the ingredients to qualify. Worse, with the same number of points, he would have gone to pool B. Yes, but here we are, pool A did not want to succeed with the French clubs. Provisionally qualified after his match, he was eliminated with the victory of Gloucester on the lawn of… Bordeaux, another French club. Xavier Garbajosa’s men will regret this reception from Saracens, where they are on a par with the English club but ultimately lose 28-20, insufficient to take the slightest point.
Racing 92 fell on the ogre to avoid: Leinster. The Irish Club, with impressive Champions Cup stats, beat them twice, despite an honorable performance at Aviva Stadium. Against Harlequins, the Ile-de-France club offered two contested matches. However, he will not have taken enough points, especially in England where he fails close to victory (14-10). An elimination which is a task when you know the great ambitions that the Racingmen have in the Champions Cup. Now it’s up to them to do better in the Challenge Cup, which they will play from the round of 16 like the LOU.