Unpredictability is perhaps the most predictable pattern when trying to sort out a winner of France’s Top 14, the most lucrative domestic rugby union competition in the world and one of the most frequently played in sports betting.
The Top 14, which begins Aug. 25, features a 26-match regular season and is then finally decided by a finals series involving the top six teams. The top two get the first weekend off while the other four fight for a semi-final place.
Unlike the southern hemisphere’s Super Rugby, which most often is won by the team that topped the table in the regular season, the Top 14 hasn’t been won by the best regular season team since Toulon was successful in 2013-14. So it won’t necessarily be the most consistent team that wins the title, but rather the team best equipped to deal with the finals series.
There was no better example than the just completed 2017-18 season. Castres had narrowly escaped relegation the previous season but they scraped into the finals series in sixth place, two points ahead of La Rochelle. They then beat Toulouse, Racing 92, and then Montpellier to win the title. It says something about that triumph that some oddsmakers don’t think they will make the playoffs in 2018-19.
Montpellier were the regular season champs last season, and under the astute coach Vern Cotter they should be prominent again. The closest challengers were Racing 92, who have added Scottish flyhalf Finn Russell and former All Blacks lock Dominic Bird to their roster. They are likely to be tough to beat once again.
Toulon, fourth in the regular season in 2017-18, will also be a team to watch, especially with the addition of New Zealand winger Julian Savea. He was on pace to become the All Blacks’ all-time leading tryscorer, but lost form right at the time the exciting Rieko Ioane emerged, prompting him to get on the plane to France. If he gets near his best again, Toulon will be strong challengers.
Lyon will benefit from the addition of Charlie Ngatai from New Zealand, and the best bet from outside last year’s top six are Clermont Auvergne, the 2016-17 champions who won’t have to worry about a European campaign this year. Stade Francais also have enough talent to possibly make the playoffs.
BEST FRANCE TOP 14 BET: Toulon (OUTSIDE ODDS: Clermont Auvergne)