Ranking Europe's Top 15 Club Teams After Weekend of May 29-31

Danny Coyle@dannyjpcoyleFeatured ColumnistJune 2, 2015

Ranking Europe's Top 15 Club Teams After Weekend of May 29-31

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    We have two of out three champions in Europe’s big leagues. Saracens and Glasgow lifted the Premiership and Pro 12 titles respectively after performances to which their final opponents had no answers.

    Sarries were too clever, too hungry and far less error-prone than Bath, while Glasgow’s high tempo and ability to cope with the Munster maul put them a street ahead of the Irishmen.

    All that remains of the domestic season are two semis and a final in the Top 14. Toulon host Stade Francais and Clermont meet Toulouse to decide who will fight it out for the Bouclier de Brennus.

    Here are the standings.

15. Racing Metro

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    All Blacks legend Dan Carter arrives in Paris after the World Cup.
    All Blacks legend Dan Carter arrives in Paris after the World Cup.Hannah Peters/Getty Images

    Racing ran out of gas against Stade Francais to exit the Top 14 play-offs at the first hurdle.

    They have, at least, shown glimpses that they can come together as a team rather than a collection of individuals this season.

    Consistency is now the next piece of the jigsaw to find. That may be tricky with the personnel changes afoot at Stade Colombes.

    Out go Jamie Roberts and Jonny Sexton, plus six French players from the squad, with big names Dan Carter, Chris Masoe, Remi Tales and Yannick Nyanga arriving.

    Each man is an established international, but they must knit together quickly to ensure Racing get off to a strong start next campaign.

14. Oyonnax

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    Oyonnax were denied an heroic win in Toulouse by Cyril Baille’s late try.

    Their efforts looked like being enough to beat an underpowered Toulouse side until the home side’s bench turned the tide in the scrum.

    It will be a challenge for the French minnows to reach this stage again next season, according to planetrugby.com:

    "Oyonnax can take a lot from this season and lose by a single point in Toulouse for the second time having opened their campaign with a similar result. However, they will have to rebuild without head coach Christophe Urios and some key players who will be off over the offseason."

13. Exeter

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    Exeter will look forward to next season with relish—and no small amount of hunger to atone for their final-day failure to make the play-offs.

    They have recruited well so far, with Geoff Parling and Julian Salvi arriving from Leicester to keep their boisterous pack well stocked.

    If the home-grown talents of Luke Cowan-Dickie, Henry Slade and Jack Nowell can continue their upward trajectory, the Chiefs look well-placed to do the same.

12. Ulster

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    Ulster’s Pro 12 semi-final exit was a bitter spill to swallow given the final was played at their own ground.

    That they saw their conquerors Glasgow lift the title there will have been some consolation, at least.

    Having lost their coaches before the start of the campaign, a place in the top four can perhaps be viewed as a decent return from a season in which a new coach had to bed down and injuries to key men were a common occurrence.

    That being said, defeats to Zebre and the Dragons earlier in the campaign may be viewed as the reason they ended up packing their bags for the semi-finals rather than enjoying the raucous support of the Ravenhill faithful.

    Recruitment for next term has so far been unspectacular, but it would be a bonus to get full seasons from Iain Henderson, Dan Tuohy and Ruan Pienaar.

11. Ospreys

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    Ospreys came close to overturning Munster in Limerick to reach the Pro 12 final, and there is an argument to say their dangerous backs would have posed Glasgow more problems in the final itself.

    But Steve Tandy’s side instead must reflect on a season that was blighted by another poor European campaign but peppered with some great seasons for certain players.

    Notably, the try-scoring No. 9 Rhys Webb has elevated himself to arguably the best scrum-half in these islands, while the irrepressible Alun-Wyn Jones maintained his impressively high standards throughout the campaign.

    They have gone for experience in the recruitment market for next season to negotiate the stop-start beginning to the campaign while the World Cup unfolds, with Welsh internationals Paul James and Gareth Delve coming in, joined by All Black Brendon Leonard who will fill Webb’s boots while he is on national service.

10. Leicester

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    The Tigers bowed out at the semi-final stage of the Premiership season but need a major improvement to be classed as title contenders next season.

    That will be a task made easier if they have even half the bad luck in terms of injuries as were seen Welford Road this season.

    But Richard Cockerill and a new coaching team headed up by Aaron Mauger also have to remodel a pack losing Brad Thorn, Geoff Parling, Jamie Gibson and Julian Salvi.

    The backs also need major attention in terms of personnel, so says the Leicester Mercury’s Martin Crowson:

    Tigers' back line needs some world-class guile and it also needs some pace. That will be the task that Tigers have to sort out in the coming months. What is certain is that there is going to be a large turnover of players this summer and, with a new head coach and new defence coach coming in, it could be an off-season of unprecedented change in both personnel and tactics.

9. Toulouse

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    Toulouse had a rookie 21-year-old prop to thank for squeaking past Oyonnax in the Top 14 play-offs.

    Replacement Cyril Baille’s try sealed a 20-19 that sent Guy Noves' men through to the semi-finals and gave their coach a chance to end his tenure by delivering another title to Toulouse before he takes the reins of the national side.

    A tight contest looked to be going the way of Oyonnax before Baille burrowed over in the 73rd minute.

    Toulouse now have to travel to Clermont Auvergne, who they have lost twice to this season already.

8. Stade Francais

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    Stade secured a semi-final spot with an emphatic 38-15 victory over city rivals Racing Metro, per planetrugby.com: "At Jean Bouin, and on their return to the play-offs, Stade used their dominant scrum and and incisive backs to overwhelm a Racing team that looked short of ideas."

    It sends Stade into a showdown with reigning champions and European kings Toulon.

    But Stade have beaten Bernard Laporte’s men home and away this season. What price for a hat-trick?

7. Munster

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    It was not to be a fairy tale ending for Paul O’Connell as Munster were swept aside by Glasgow in the Pro 12 final.

    They were missing two key men, according to the Irish Independent’s Ruaidhri O’Connor: "This emphatic defeat means their wait for a title of any hue stretches to five seasons and, if they are to bridge that gap, it is clear that Peter O'Mahony and Conor Murray must be on the field. They were sorely missed on Saturday."

    Additions in the back line next season should beef up Munster’s fire power, but the litmus test is how they will cope in the post-O’Connell era.

    A new dawn awaits for Anthony Foley and his players.

6. Northampton

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    The Saints’ thoughts are now focused on next season, which will be a challenge without the muscle of Samu Manoa and Salesi Ma'afu, who head to Toulon.

    They are two of 10 players heading for the exit, but the addition of Newcastle Falcons prop Kieran Brookes is a boon for Jim Mallinder’s side, as is the arrival of Munster playmaker JJ Hanrahan.

    They will also have a well-rested Dylan Hartley after his latest ban earned him the elbow from England’s World Cup squad.

5. Bath

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    It was sad in some ways to see Bath’s game plan turn from dazzling display in the semi-finals to ineffectual, misplaced ambition in the final.

    Against the relentless defensive press from Saracens, Bath’s offloads either hit the deck or, when they did stick, saw their recipients hammered to the turf.

    It shouldn’t detract from the fact that Mike Ford’s men have been the most easy on the eye this Premiership season, but in the face of the most oppressive rearguard in the league their strategy failed, and by the time they opted for plan B they were too far behind.

    If they can add more than one way of playing to their weaponry next season, they can figure in the shake-up for silverware again.

4. Glasgow

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    Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

    Glasgow rubber-stamped their first-place finish in the Pro 12 with a 31-13 win over Munster in Belfast.

    Scots are not known for hyperbole and it was no stretch of reality by the Scotsman’s Iain Morrisson who described this win as “the first tangible reward for Scottish rugby in the professional era.”

    Morrisson continued:

    Glasgow saved their best performance for yesterday’s final which they bossed from start to finish with just the odd hiccup in the middle section. If the score makes the match look competitive, the four-to-one try count gives a more accurate reflection of the balance of power and play on the night.

    Gregor Townsend’s men have played the best brand of rugby in the league all season and thoroughly deserve their title.

    The challenge for Townsend is to play a full part in helping new Scotland coach Vern Cotter transfer this template to the international arena.

3. Saracens

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    Saracens are English champions once more.

    Mark McCall’s men thwarted Bath’s every attempt to unleash their flamboyant style at Twickenham and plundered three first-half tries in clinical fashion that all but ended the contest.

    Having narrowly made the play-offs on the final day of the regular season, the Fez Heads have done it the hard way, toppling the 2014 champions on their own turf before defeating Bath in the final.

    After losing two finals last season, this will feel sweet for the Londoners.

2. Clermont Auvergne

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    Clermont rested and watched Toulouse earn the right to play them next week after clawing their way over the line against Oyonnax.

    Franck Azema’s men have done the Top 14 double over Guy Noves’ troops this season and home advantage is a huge card in Les Jaunards’ favour.

1. Toulon

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    No action for Toulon as they watched the first round of Top 14 play-offs unfold.

    They will play Stade Francais next week, the only side they have failed to beat this season, having lost home and away to the Parisians.

    The experience of Bernard Laporte’s players in games of this nature should give them the edge over their opponents.

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