In any sport, the key to being the best team is to have a perfect balance, which is why La Rochelle works.

Examine history, teams with an excellent attack, but a poor defence rarely get anywhere, and vice versa.

2015 All Blacks

If you look at the New Zealand side that won the 2015 Rugby World Cup, there is perfect harmony in all facets. Harmony in experience, in star power, in impact, and in both the attack and defence.

Look deeper into the side, objectively, New Zealand’s front row was not the best. Dane Coles was the top hooker in the world. But Joe Moody and Owen Franks were not the top props in that competition.

Dane Coles in full flight in 2015.
Photo Marty Melville

This was balanced by the star power in the rest of the pack. Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock were the best lock pairing in the world. Richie McCaw and Kieran Read were the best loose forwards in the world, compensating for the powerful, yet cavalier Jerome Kaino.

The same was true for the backs, players like Conrad Smith, Aaron Smith and Ben Smith provided a platform for flashy players. Their hard-working approach allowed Dan Carter, Ma’a Nonu, Nehe Milner-Skudder, and Julian Savea to play their eccentric brand of rugby.

Aaron Smith scores at the World Cup in 2015.
Copyright Photo: Matthew Impey

This union of elements in the game secured the World Cup for the All Blacks. The same aspects of the game make La Rochelle a fun team to watch, and a top contender for the Top14 title.

La Rochelle Superstars

La Rochelle’s balance begins with their experience, with several seasoned internationals providing wisdom to the top prospects in France.

Number 8 Victor Vito has 100 caps for the Hurricanes, 33 for the All Blacks, and a World Cup Winners medal. Captain Jason Eaton has 88 caps for the Canes and 15 for the All Blacks. He was also the IRPA Newcomer of the Year in 2006. Flanker Kevin Gourdon has 129 caps for La Rochelle and 15 for France. Tighthead Uini Atonio has 96 caps for the club and 28 for France.

La Rochelle's Victor Vito at the 2001 RWC for NZ
Victor Vito at the 2011 World Cup.
Photo: Stewart Baird, via Flickr

Scrum-half Tawera Kerr-Barlow has 68 caps for the Chiefs and 27 for the All Blacks. Fly-half Brock James has 289 caps for Clermont. Centre Geoffrey Doumayrou has a combined 162 caps for Montpellier and Stade Francais. Finally, winger Rene Ranger has 71 caps for the Blues and a fearsome reputation as the man to demolish Julian Savea.

Looking at all of this experience, it’s easy to understand why they are second in the table, three points behind Montpellier. But, this does not tell the whole story. Not by a long way. Not enough recognition has gone to the young and unsung heroes of this La Rochelle side.

La Rochelle Youngsters

Dany Priso has been a revelation at loosehead with his strength, pace and athleticism reminding some of a young Tendai Mtawarira. And at 23 years old, he is favoured for a France call-up and a long career in the game.

Mohamed Bourgarit is another young French front-rower who seems to be yet another hooking prodigy. His massive performance against Wasps will have certainly caught the attention of the French selection panel.

In the second row, youngster Thomas Jolmes is challenging Romain Sazy and Jone Qovu Nailiko for the starting spot. He was yet another to have a huge contribution against Wasps.

Other players have benefitted from this experience, Levani Botia has become a menace at openside and inside centre. Wings Vincent Rattez and Gabriel Lacroix have received international call-ups for France. Pierre Aguillon has formed a fearsome and formidable centre partnership with Geoffrey Doumayrou.

La Rochelle's Pierre Aguillon in his days with US Oyonnax
Pierre Aguillon in his days at US Oyonnax.
Photo: Fanny Schertzer – Own work, via Wiki Commons

Coupled with immense squad depth, La Rochelle’s perfect balance of experience and youth have them challenging for top spot in the Top14.

In time we will see how far it takes them.

Author: Andrew Weaver

My name is Andrew, I live in New York City, USA, and I play second and back row for Play Rugby USA. When I am not playing rugby, I’m drawing, or enjoying a good book. Thankfully, I was able to navigate through the other American sports and land on rugby.


  1. Nice article Andrew. I think there is a tactical element to La Rochelle too though. You are right that they have a great squad. I have noticed some other things to complement this. They use running exits where everyone else in the Top14 kick. That helps them keep the pace of the game higher in a league where teams are relatively unfit. They use their big carriers wider, in the center channels, more than other Top14 sides. That helps them win the gainline. They are clearly fitter and have better handling skills than most Top14 teams and that must be a huge focus in their team. They play through James or Lamb more where other French sides go through 9. These elements combined with the standard French offloading and set piece games allow them to perform the way they do. What do you think?

    • I understand that there is a tactical element to every team, but a lot of what La Rochelle does revolves around big ball carriers, like Qovu and Atonio. If they did not have those same players, they would not get the same forward momentum, especially because runners like Murimuravalu, Lacroix, and Ranger thrive in broken-play. I just do not think that Patrice Collazo does anything special with his team.

      • I seem to have a very different take on them than you then Andrew. I don’t think they’re doing anything a Kiwi or English team would think special, no. But I do think they are doing things differently to the other French sides. Everyone on France has huge ball carriers and dangerous broken field runners. It is obviously a massive part of La Rochelle’s game too, and you have a point that theirs are some of the very best. I just think if that’s all they have then they would basically be Toulon lite.

        • Your certainly right, saying that La Rochelle is “Toulon Lite” is disrespectful to the wonderful work that Patrice Collazo had done at the Marcel Deflandre. I think that tactically they are very similar to the rest of the sides in the Top14, with the only difference being the likes of their impact players. Any side that has Victor Vito and Levani Botia running in the channel would do well in the Top14. Toulon does not have the same style of loose forwards that the Privateers do. It is unlikely that Duane Vermeulen or Mamuka Gorgodze would every run the channels.


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