Old friendships count for little as La Rochelle meet mentor Gibbes

Paris (AFP) –


There is a certain buzz about Clermont coach Jono Gibbes coming up against his old team La Rochelle in round three of the French Top 14 this weekend but there is little room for sentiment.

For Gibbes, who last season took La Rochelle to the European Champions Cup and Top 14 finals, and for the players of both sides, it is business as usual.

"Frankly, we don't do sentimental," said Gibbes who admitted he was not keen to talk about his former club.

"Matches like this, it's for afterwards, in the changing room.

"We have to stay focused on the essentials. We need to win, it's a key match for us."

His counterpart Ronan O'Gara, who was promoted from understudy following Gibbes' departure, is keeping an even lower profile.

The Irishman did not speak to the press after last weekend's 23-10 defeat by Racing and nor did he present himself ahead of the Clermont encounter. Perhaps there is a touch of sentiment that needs to be hidden.

Neither team, however, can afford to be generous when they meet at Clermont's Stade Marcel Michelin, once an impregnable castle, now a smouldering ruin after last week's sacking by Castres.

Neither side has won this season, both have a single point to their name after the opening two rounds, and they occupy 12th and 13th in the table with just pointless Stade Francais below them.

It is early season still but another defeat and anxieties will likely start to creep in.

"We want to do something for Jono, we must win this match," said Clermont number eight Fritz Lee.

The visitors will have to make do without their Australian tractor Will Skelton who was handed a five-week ban on Thursday for "dangerous play" after shoulder-barging Toulouse's Richie Arnold in the opening weekend.

O'Gara, however, will be glad to see the return of France full-back Brice Dulin who has yet to feature this season.

- Racing return for Russell -

Another man expected to return to action this weekend is Racing's Scottish fly-half Finn Russell who has not played since rejoining the club after his stint in South Africa with the British and Irish Lions.

Russell -- and French wing Teddy Thomas who also returns -- teams up with a Racing side that travels with two wins under their belt to promoted Biarritz.

Racing 92's Scottish fly-half Finn Russell is expected to make his first appearance of the season at Biarritz
Racing 92's Scottish fly-half Finn Russell is expected to make his first appearance of the season at Biarritz Glyn KIRK AFP/File

Champions Toulouse, who already top the table after a crushing demolition of Toulon last weekend, face an intriguing encounter in Montpellier where former France coach Philippe Saint-Andre appears to be building a title-challenger.

'Le Goret' will also benefit from two players returning to action, Vincent Rattez who missed last weekend's win over Brive, and international flanker Yacouba Camara who has been out of action since May with a fractured shoulder blade.

Camara spent four years at Toulouse before joining Montpellier in 2017. Don't expect any sentiment there either.


Saturday (1300 GMT unless stated)

Biarritz v Racing 92, Brive v Pau, Castres v Bordeaux Begles, Lyon v Perpignan, Montpellier v Toulouse (1500), Clermont v La Rochelle (1905)


Toulon v Stade Francais (1905)