Semi Radradra and Josua Tuisova at Toulon, Clermont’s Alivereti Raka and Levani Botia of La Rochelle are among an exhilarating cast set to take centre stage
With the 2017‑18 European rugby season about to start, here is one for you: how many of France’s formidably wealthy, massively well-stocked clubs have lifted the continent’s grandest prize this century? The answer, remarkably, is just two: Toulouse and Toulon. The heavy mob of Clermont Auvergne, Racing 92, Montpellier and co are all still waiting to crack the code.
Even a side like Castres, who consistently punch above their weight in the Top 14, contrive to underperform year in year out in Europe, reaching the knockout stages once in 13 attempts and failing to win any of their last 10 games against Irish opposition. The allegation has long been that, deep down, hoisting the French title feels more of a priority. Whether it is the extra travel, the slight shift in game tempo, a greater emphasis on away results or a relative lack of interest, the middle-ranking French sides have traditionally flattered to deceive.