Top 14: Club-by-club guide for the new season
On Friday, June 24, Racing 92 beat Toulon in Barcelona to lift the 2015-16 Top 14 trophy. On Saturday -- just 57 days later -- they begin the defence of their title at Bordeaux as the new season kicks off.
Here, we run the rule over the clubs and the players. And, as it's an Olympic year, we've put a Rio twist on things.
Arrivals: Evrard Dion Oulai (Carcassonne); Ben Broster (Biarritz Olympique); Emmanuel Saubusse (Mont-de-Marsan); Manu Leiataua (Aurillac); Raphaël Lagarde (Albi); Jérôme Schuster (Tarbes); Adam Jaulhac (Bordeaux-Bègles); Jean-Blaise Lespinasse (Bordeaux-Bègles); Felix Le Bourhis (Bordeaux-Bègles); Romain Martial (Castres Olympique); Tom Donnelly (Montpellier); Johnnie Beattie (Castres Olympique); Tanerau Latimer (Blues); Davit Khinchagishvili (Racing 92); Lorenzo Cittadini (Wasps)
Departures: Anton Peikrishvili (contract not renewed); Bertrand Perez (Dax); Florian Lapeyrade (Anglet); Ofa Fainga'anuku (contract not renewed); Simon Courcoul Courcoul (Narbonne); Rassie Van Vuuren (retired) Allan Gravier (La Seyne); Joubert Horn (Boland Cavaliers); Benjamin Macome (contract not renewed); Thibaut Visensang (Tyrosse); Bastien Fischer (Saint Jean-de-Luz); Charlie Cassang (Clermont); Iban Hourcade (Tyrosse); Joannes Henry (Nantes); Blair Stewart (retired); Brendan Hegarty (contract not renewed); Iban Etcheverry (Bordeaux-Bègles); Pierre Sayerse (Montauban); Jon Elissalde (Saint Jean-de-Luz)
Player to Watch: Martin Bustos Moyano -- The Argentinian kicker is the beating heart of Bayonne. He kept the faith when they were cruelly relegated in 2013-14, and was a key part of their immediate return to the top flight.
Most Likely to Be Which Olympic Nation: Ireland. Full of pluck and no shortage of luck, Bayonne will pull out some stunning performances, but they don't have the strength in depth to be more than an entertaining sideshow.
What they could say at season's end: Such a shame. Bayonne were too good to be relegated, but it was their bad fortune to play in such a strong Top 14.
Arrivals: Marc Clerc (Oyonnax); Vadim Cobilas (Sale); Johan Aliouat (Carcassonne); Luke Jones (Melbourne Rebels); Irakli Tskhadadze (Armazi); Tristan Labouteley (Montpellier); Julien Audy (La Rochelle); Ian Madigan (Leinster); Jayden Spence (Otago); Pablo Uberti (Tyrosse); Iban Etcheverry (Bayonne); Joe Vakacegu (Béziers); Geoffrey Cros (Tarbes)
Departures: Angel Durango (Aix); Francisco Gomez Kodela (Lyon); Lucas Hernandez (Saint-Médard en Jalles); Patrick Toetu (Brive); Sekope Kepu (Waratahs); Thierry Païva (Carcassonne); Arnaud Feltrin (Albi); Adam Jaulhac (Bayonne); Ciaran O'Flynn (Angoulême); Julien Ledevedec (Brive); Thomas Lainault (Carcassonne); Vincent Bouet (Langon); Jean-Blaise Lespinasse (Bayonne); Matthew Clarkin (retired); Erwan Nicolas (Rouen); Heini Adams (retired); Arnaud Durand (RCB Arcachon); Pierre Bernard (Toulon); Félix Le Bourhis (Bayonne); Manu Ahotaeiloa (Chambéry); Paulin Riva (Angoulême); Victor Jimenez (RCB Arcachon); Charles Brousse (Aix); Corentin Perrier (RCB Arcachon); Lucas Blanc (Albi); Sakiusa Waqa (contract not renewed); Sofiane Guitoune (Toulouse); Uiki Huakau (Aurillac); Gauthier Minguillon (Langon)
Player to Watch: Baptiste Serin -- Most headlines have focused on the canny capture of Leinster's Madigan, but watch out for his halfback partner, Serin. The 22-year-old was a revelation during Les Bleus' tour of Argentina this summer and will only go from strength to strength.
Most Likely to Be Which Olympic Nation: Italy -- Perennial underperformers but capable of great things on their day ... and they do it all with such style.
What they could say at season's end: If only Bordeaux could learn how to win ugly...
Arrivals: Patrick Toetu (Bordeaux); Soso Bekoshvili (Chambéry); Vivien Devisme (Angoulême); Louis Acosta (Colomiers); Jan Uys (Pau); Julien Ledevedec (Bordeaux); Retief Marais (Sharks); Vasil Lobzhanidze (Armazi); Tiaan Stander (Pontarlier); Seremaia Burotu (Biarritz); Benjamin Lapeyre (La Rochelle); Romain Cabannes (Medical Joker - Castres Olympique)
Departures: Giorgi Jgenti (contract not renewed); Goderzi Shvelidze (retired); Grégory Querin (Limoges); Yusuf Tuncer (Albi); Pierre Rousserie (Limoges); Victor Lebas (Angoulême); Hugues Briatte (Nevers); Roméo Ponge Prince (Angoulême); Bastien Duhalde (Bayonne); Anderson Neisen (Limoges); Atila Septar (Clermont); Maxime Burquier (Grasse); Alexandre Lagarde (Perpignan); Kelegh Moutome (France 7s); Thomas Lacelle (Vannes)
Player to Watch: Gaetan Germain -- No contest. The kicking machine who looks like he's auditioning for knitting pattern covers when he lines up a penalty has headed the Top 14 points-scorers' list for the past two seasons. The chances of him doing it again are impossibly high.
Most Likely to Be Which Olympic Nation: Hungary. Who? Exactly. Why? Same reason.
What they could say at season's end: It had to happen. Brive tried to compete in the Top 14 with a fraction of the budget. It had to catch up with them at some time.
Arrivals: Damien Tussac (Montauban); Daniel Kotze (Clermont); Tudor Stroë (Tarbes); Jody Jenneker (Oyonnax); Loïc Jacquet (Clermont); Thibault Lassalle (Toulon); Ma'ama Vaipulu (Chiefs); Steve Mafi (Western Force); Maxime Javaux (Racing 92); Afusipa Taumoepeau (Albi); Robert Ebersohn (Montpellier); Horacio Agulla (Bath); Kylian Jaminet (Toulon); Pierre Bérard (La Rochelle)
Departures: Florian Houerie (retired); Karena Wihongi (Lyon); Lucas Martinez (Lomas Athletic Club); Saimone Taumoepeau (Lavaur); Vincent Simioni (Lavaur); Yannick Forestier (retired); Julien Béziat (Narbonne); Mathieu Bonello (retired); Benjamin Desroches (Albi); Danya Tulou (contract not renewed); Richie Gray (Toulouse); Romain Durand (Narbonne); Ibrahim Diarra (Pau); John Beattie (Bayonne); Piula Faasalele (Toulouse); Vlad Nistor (Albi); Valentin Mouysset (Lavaur); Daniel Kirkpatrick (Albi); Evan Albert (Aix); Nicolas Gabriel (Saint-Jean d'Angely); Rémi Lamerat (Clermont); Romain Cabannes (Brive -- Medical Joker); Rudi Wulf (Lyon); Romain Martial (Bayonne); Sitiveni Sivivatu (retired); Louis Decrop (Albi)
Player to Watch: Alex Tulou -- The rampaging No. 8 had a point to prove when he arrived last season from Montpellier. He proved it so well that he has already been offered -- and signed -- a contract extension. Expect more rampaging, Tulou-style.
Most Likely to Be Which Olympic Nation: Great Britain -- Like Team GB, Castres love to play the plucky underdog card: Little town, big team is their motto. But don't be fooled. They will push bigger clubs all the way.
What they could say at season's end: Once again, Castres defied expectation and punched way above their plucky little town weight. Wait ... what did ESPN say at the start of the season?
Arrivals: Aaron Jarvis (Ospreys); Sitaleki Timani (Montpellier); Charlie Cassang (Bayonne); Atila Septar (Brive); Isaia Toeava (Kubota Spears); Rémi Lamerat (Castres Olympique
Departures: Daniel Kotze (Castres Olympique); Lucas Fournerat (Montauban); Thibault Estorge (Montauban); Kévin Savea (Aurillac); Marthinus Van Der Westhuizen (Montauban); Jamie Cudmore (Oyonnax); Karl Wilkins (Béziers); Loïc Jacquet (Castres Olympique); Calvonn Allison (Aurillac); Kévin Courtet (Aix); Brock James (La Rochelle); Jonathan Davies (Scarlets); Pedro Bettencourt (Carcassonne); Julien Charbonnel (Mont-de-Marsan); Pierre Gaveau (Aurillac)
Player to Watch: Rémi Lamerat -- You could take your pick from a scary back line that starts with Morgan Parra, takes in Camille Lopez, and could include Lamerat, Wesley Fofana, David Strettle, Nick Abendanon and Scott Spedding. We've just gone for the new boy.
Most Likely to Be Which Olympic Nation: Canada. They've been way too nice to ram home any advantage they have -- and they have plenty.
What they could say at season's end: What do Clermont have to do to win something?
Arrivals: Aly Muldowney (Connacht); David Mélé (Toulouse); Sisa Waqa (Canberra Raiders)
Departures: Kévin Goze (Valence Romans Drôme); Anthony Hegarty (retired); James Percival (Tarbes); Christophe Loustalot (Mont-de-Marsan); James Hart (Racing 92); Robin Lastella (US2Ponts); Jackson Willison (Worcester); Daniel Kilioni (Carcassonne); Robinson Caire (Biarritz); Ryad Benlakhlef (US2Ponts)
Player to Watch: Jonathan Wisniewski -- you have to wonder how a player who was first-choice fly-half at Racing back in 2007, ahead of a certain Andrew Mehrtens, could have slipped under the France radar. But spellchecker nightmare Wisniewski managed it. Now 31, his international ambitions have long-since faded, but the new Grenoble captain still has plenty to give the game.
Most Likely to Be Which Olympic Nation: Switzerland. Grenoble should run with clockwork efficiency -- but, like a cheap watch, they can stop when you need them most.
What they could say at season's end: The ghost of Christmas just past once again did for Grenoble, as their hopes died in a dismal second half of the season
Arrivals: Dany Priso (Stade Francais); Jemal Shatirishvili (Georgia); Mohamed Boughanmi (Toulon); Jérémie Maurouard (Oyonnax); Eric Marks (Aachen); Romain Fardoux (Bobigny); Victor Vito (Hurricanes); Alexi Balès (Agen); Arthur Retière (Racing 92); Brock James (Clermont); Paul Jordaan (Sharks); Steeve Barry (France 7s); Tevita Railevu (Nasinu); David Raikuna (Blues); Vincent Rattez (Narbonne)
Departures: François Foucault (Nantes); Gagi Bazadze (contract not renewed); Thomas Synaeghel (Biarritz); Benjamin Gélédan (Oyonnax); David Roumieu (Biarritz); Enzo Mondon (Rouen); Cédric Thouchkaieff (Agen); Albain Meron (Chambéry); Benoît Guyot (retired); Jérémie Abiven (Vannes); Julien Audy (Bordeaux); Titouan Guillon (Mâcon); Fabien Fortassin (Biarritz); Jean-Pascal Barraque (France 7s); Malietoa Hingano (Honda Heat); Alex Northam (Edinburgh); Alipate Ratini (Stade Francais); Alofa Alofa (Harlequins); François Herry (Nevers); Benjamin Lapeyre (Brive); Pierre Bérard (Castres Olympique)
Player to Watch: Uini Antonio -- Forget Flash-Harry new arrivals like Victor Vito and Brock James. Anyone capable of hauling about 24 stone about a rugby pitch for the better part of 80 minutes is worth watching. And Antonio doesn't just haul himself about. He barnstorms.
Most Likely to Be Which Olympic Nation: Netherlands. The country everyone who lives outside the Netherlands forgets when thinking about Olympic contenders. And, on the whole, with good reason.
What they could say at season's end: Ah, bother... What's the name of that other team in the Top 14?
Arrivals: Alexandre Menini (Toulon); Francisco Gomez Kodela (Bordeaux-Bègles); Karena Wihongi (Castres Olympique); Stéphane Clément (Biarritz); Mickaël Ivaldi (Montpellier); Andrés Zafra (Givors); Félix Lambey (Béziers); Franco Mostert (Lions); Josh Bekhuis (Blues); Maselno Paulino (Scarlets); Thibaut Privat (Montpellier); Curtis Browning (Queensland Reds); Virgile Bruni (Toulon); François Filliot (Clermont); Frédéric Michalak (Toulon); Mike Harris (Melbourne Rebels); Rudi Wulf (Castres Olympique); Théo Belan (Toulon); Henry Clunies-Ross (Waratahs); Delon Armitage (Toulon)
Departures: Hoani Tui (Oyonnax); Karim Kouider (Béziers); Wian Du Preez (retired); Damien Fitzpatrick (Waratahs); Jean-Philippe Bonrepaux (retired); Coenraad Basson (Nevers); Jean-Baptiste Singer (Biarritz); Karim Ghezal (retired); Steevy Cerqueira (Béziers); Didier Tison (Narbonne); Eugène N'Zi (Nevers); Masi Matadigo (Chambéry); Jérémy Gondrand (Oyonnax); Mathieu Lorée (Limoges); Joffrey Prats (Aix); Stephen Brett (Narbonne); Aelxis François (Narbonne); Clément Aubert (Albi); Kendrick Lynn (retired); Waisale Sukanaveita (Montauban); Robin Aulas (Béziers)
Player to Watch: Virgile Bruni -- Surely no forward in the game can have as much unfulfilled promise as Bruni. Now he's left Toulon, where he warmed the bench for the likes of Steffon Armitage, Mamuka Gorgodze and Juan Smith, he might finally get the chance to show off his talents
Most Likely to Be Which Olympic Nation: Brazil. Flashy and shiny and dripping with glamour, but make sure to check carefully before you get too close.
What they could say at season's end: Remember 2014? And 2011? Even talented rugby stars need time to develop as a team.
Arrivals: Antoine Guillamon (Oyonnax); Grégory Fichten (Narbonne); Konstantine Mikautadze (Toulon); Nicolaas Janse Van Rensburg (Bulls); Ben Botica (Harlequins); Alexandre Dumoulin (Racing 92); Joe Tomane (Brumbies); Nemani Nadolo (Crusaders); Henry Immelman (Free State Cheetahs); Joffrey Michel (Perpignan); Vincent Martin (Oyonnax); Josh Stander (Bulls); Duhan Van Der Merwe (Bulls)
Departures: Clément Castets (Toulouse); Nicolas Mas (retired); Oleg Ishchenko (Colomiers); Patric Cilliers (Leicester); Schalk Van Der Merwe (contract not renewed); Mickaël Ivaldi (Lyon); Thomas Sauveterre (Carcassonne); Sitaleki Timani (Clermont); Thibaut Privat (Lyon); Tom Donnelly (Bayonne); Baptiste Pesenti (Pau); Ben Mowen (Pau); Martin Devergie (Colomiers); Tristan Labouteley (Bordeaux); Ben Lucas (Toyota Verblitz); François Trinh-Duc (Toulon); Ilian Perraux (Albi); Anthony Tuitavake (Racing 92); Robert Ebersohn (Castres Olympique); Anthony Floch (retired)
Player to Watch: Alexandre Dumoulin -- the French centre needs a big season at the club that's turning the south-coast city into Durban-sur-Med
Most Likely to Be Which Olympic Nation: South Africa -- Appropriately enough. Plenty of talented and competitive players. But, on the whole, pretty dull to watch.
What they could say at season's end: Dear Jake White ... Please remember Montpellier is in France...
Arrivals: Joel Sclavi (Gernika); Malik Hamadache (Albi); Ignacio Calles (Liceo Naval); Ben Kelland (Colchester RFC); Fabrice Metz (Oyonnax); Masalosalo Tutaia (Mont-de-Marsan); Matt Beukeboom (Lindsay Rugby FC); Baptiste Pesenti (Montpellier); Ben Mowen (Montpellier); Ibrahim Diarra (Castres Olympique); Pierrick Gunther (Oyonnax); Steffon Armitage (Toulon); Christopher Kaiser (Narbonne); Julien Tomas (Stade Francais); Louis Dupichot (Racing 92); Tom Taylor (Toulon)
Departures: Cameron Holenstein (Harlequins); Euan Murray (retired); Giorgi Natsarashvili (Carcassonne); Juan Pablo Orlandi (contract not renewed); Quentin Broucaret (Saint Jean-de-Luz); Vincent Campo (retired); Jan Uys (Brive); Tony Lanauve (Mont-de-Marsan); Brice Monzeglio (contract not renewed); Jean Bouilhou (retired); Josefa Domolailai (Carcassonne); Samuel Marques (Toulouse); Damien Traille (retired); Simon Bonnet (retired); Marika Vunibaka (contract not renewed); Sireli Bobo (Strasbourg); William Pees (Mâcon); Mathieu Acebes (Perpignan)
Player to Watch: Steffon Armitage -- What happens when you team Armitage with Ibrahim Diarra and Ben Mowen in the back row under the watchful (and, no doubt, paternal and loving) coaching gaze of the former's ex-Toulon skipper Carl Hayman? We'll find out this season.
Most Likely to Be Which Olympic Nation: Australia. Flawed grit and excitement in one green-shirted package.
What they could say at season's end: Simon Mannix and his coaching team are starting to build something pretty special at Pau
Arrivals: Viliamu Afatia (Agen); Ali Williams (no club); Gerbrandt Grobler (no club); Le Roux Roets (Bulls); Leone Nakarawa (Glasgow); Olivier Missoup (Oyonnax); James Hart (Grenoble); Franck Pourteau (Toulouse); Albert Vulivuli (Clermont); Anthony Tuitavake (Montpellier)
Departures: Clément Vermond (Agen); Davit Khinchagishvili (Bayonne); Martin Castrogiovanni (contract not renewed); Juandré Kruger (Toulon); Luke Charteris (Bath); Ross Filipo (Hawke's Bay); Valentin Chapon (Perpignan); Amin Hamzaoui (Angoulême); Luc Barba (Oyonnax); William Vaccaril (Aurillac); Arthur Retière (La Rochelle); Mike Phillips (Sale); Maxime Javaux (Castres Olympique); Alexandre Dumoulin (Montpellier); Yoan Audrin (contract not renewed); Louis Dupichot (Pau)
Player to watch: Dan Carter -- Who else? Well, Ali Williams, obviously. And Brice Dulin. Yes, and Johannes Goosen. And Maxime Machenaud. And Teddy Thomas, too. Alright, and Yannick Nyanga. And [insert Racing player of your choice here]
Most Likely to Be Which Olympic Nation: Germany. Years of underachievement are now being laid to rest as Racing finally add style to skill
What they could say at season's end: Champion-es! Champion-es! Champ-io, Champ-io, Champion-es!
Arrivals: Nassim Aanikid (Lille); Arthur Coville (Vannes); Charlie Gowling (Newcastle); Alipate Ratini (La Rochelle)
Departures: Adrien Oléon (Massy); Dany Priso (La Rochelle); Xavier Martin (Bobigny); Julien Nibert (Colorno); Julien Tomas (Pau); Quentin Dauvergne (Massy); Clément Querru (Béziers); Avenisi Vasuinubu (Aubenas)
Player to Watch: Sekou Macalou -- Despite a season bordering on the farcically bad, 2015 champions Stade have been quiet in the player market, instead preferring to bolster their backroom staff. Young flanker Macalou could be France's Maro Itoje; or in time their Sergio Parisse. Yes, he's that good. He just needs to play in a team that performs better than the Parisians did last season.
Most Likely to Be Which Olympic Nation: France. Really should do better, but almost always never do
What they could say at season's end: Remember when Stade won the Top 14 title? Was it really only two seasons ago?
Arrivals: Laurent Delboulbes (Oyonnax); Marcel Van Der Merwe (Bulls); Juandré Kruger (Racing 92); Aidon Davis (Southern Kings); Liam Gill (Queensland Reds); François Trinh-Duc (Montpellier); Pierre Bernard (Bordeaux); Jimmy Yobo (Oyonnax); Rico Buliruarua (Marist); Rusi Vodo (Marist); Axel Muller Aranda (Los Pumas 7s); Vincent Clerc (Toulouse); Ayumu Goromaru (Queensland Reds)
Departures: Alexandre Menini (Lyon); Andrea Cincotto (Rovigo); Matt Stevens (retired); Mohamed Boughanmi (La Rochelle); Iuri Natriashvili (Baia Mare); Konstantine Mikautadze (Montpellier); Paul O'Connell (retired); Thibault Lassalle (Castres Olympique); Steffon Armitage (Pau); Virgile Bruni (Lyon); Thibault Dufau (Perpignan); Frédéric Michalak (Lyon); Quade Cooper (Queensland Reds); Louis Rousset (Angoulême); Théo Belan (Lyon); Kylian Jaminet (Castres Olympique); Delon Armitage (Lyon); Tom Taylor (Pau); Ulupano Seuteni (Oyonnax)
Player to Watch: Francois Trinh-Duc, Pierre Bernard or Ayumu Goromaru: Interesting times at Toulon as Mourad Boudjellal's search for a replacement for Jonny Wilkinson goes on. Freddie Michalak nearly worked; Quade Cooper definitely didn't; and Matt Giteau prefers the 12 shirt. Now it's the turn of the frustra-Trinh-Duc, Japan poster boy Goromaru and new Freddie on the block, Bernard. Question is: can untried head coach -- and former fly-half -- Diego Dominguez get the most out of his trio of 10s?
Most Likely to Be Which Olympic Nation: China. Toulon have all the money and resources in the world and more well-honed talent than an alternative reality full of Dan Carter-Jonny Wilkinson hybrids. But, right now, there are more questions than answers about what's going on at Stade Mayol.
What they could say at season's end: The Top 14's rubbish, anyway -- we're off to join the Pro12. Or Super Rugby. Or the Six Nations. Or all of them.
Arrivals: Clément Castets (Montpellier); Maks Van Dyk (Cheetahs); Leonardo Ghiraldini (Leicester); Richie Gray (Castres Olympique); Conor Farrell (Leinster); Piula Faasalele (Castres Olympique); Samuel Marques (Pau); Tristan Tedder (Sharks); Lucas Tauzin (Mont-de-Marsan); Sofiane Guitoune (Bordeaux-Bègles)
Departures: Gert Muller (Perpignan); Kévin Tougne (Perpignan); Neemia Tialata (Narbonne); Yorhann Ramonjiarivony (Aurillac); Corey Flynn (Glasgow); Florian Bertrand (Lombez Samatan); Gianni Gaillard (Albi); Romain Millo-Chluski (Perpignan); Brice Ferrer (Tarbes); Edgar Tuinukuafe (Carcassonne); Imanol Harinordoquy (retired); Louis Picamoles (Northampton); Mickaël Dirat (contract not renewed); Pierre Algans (Narbonne); Romain Mercadal (Guernsey Raiders); David Mélé (Grenoble); Fabien Nabias (Montauban); Thibaut Loquet (Saint Sulpice-sur-Lèze); Franck Pourteau (Racing 92); Bryan Brioux (Saint Sulpice-sur-Lèze); Thomas Bouyxou (Tarbes); Cyril Billard (Angoulême); Timoci Matanavou (Perpignan); Vincent Clerc (Toulon); Clément Poitrenaud (contract not renewed); Thomas Ramos (Colomiers)
Player to Watch: Yoann Huget -- the winger spent much of last season on the sidelines with injury -- and with Sofiane Guitoune joining the most successful club in French rugby history this summer, Huget has plenty to prove
Most Likely to Be Which Olympic Nation: Kenya. Big names capable of big performances, but their glory years are a fading memory
What they could say at season's end: Another trophyless year for Toulouse.