Racing face title test at Euro champs Toulon
Racing Metro's Irish fly-half Jonathan Sexton smiles during a press conference following a training session in Le Plessis-Robinson, outside Paris, on July 30, 2013. Big-spending Racing Metro face a tough examination of their prospective title credentials with a trip to European champions Toulon on Friday.
Having made a statement of intent in the close season with an ambitious recruitment campaign that notably saw a trio of British Lions -- Ireland fly-half Jonathan Sexton and Welsh pair Dan Lydiate and Jamie Roberts -- swell the Parisians' ranks, Racing were far from impressive in their season opener against newly-promoted Brive last weekend.
Labouring to a 19-14 home victory in La Rochelle, where the match was held in the hope of attracting a bigger crowd than could be expected in deserted Paris during the August holidays, Racing looked like a team that will need some time to gel.
What's more they suffered a blow in midweek with the news that France scrum-half Maxime Machenaud had to have an operation on the knee he injured against Brive.
It means the pressure will be on new stars such as Sexton to make a quick transition to Top 14 rugby and inspire his side to step up a level.
It is a game that could be billed as the clash of Lions greats past and present with England legend Jonny Wilkinson lining up opposite Sexton at number 10 for Toulon.
But while that particular battle will provide an intriguing back-drop to the encounter, it is in the forwards that it is likely to be decided.
And in that domaine, Toulon are the clear favourites. The two sides met in a pre-season friendly at the Mayol stadium in the south of France and two penalty tries awarded as Racing's pack crumbled saw Toulon to a comfortable victory.
The Parisians' pack was again ruthlessly exposed against Brive, particularly in the first half, and that will be of particular concern to coaching tandem Laurent Labit and Laurent Travers.
It has been a surprising turn of events given Racing can call upon France front-rowers Dimitri Szarzewski and Luc Ducalcon, as well as South African prop Brian Mujati and Samoan counterpart Soane Tonga'uiha.
If Racing are to cause Toulon, who drew 22-22 with Montpellier in their opening match, it could be out wide where the hosts will still be without South African new-signing Bryan Habana, on Rugby Championship duty with his country in Argentina.
Meanwhile reigning Top 14 champions Castres will look to get off the winning mark, following their defeat at Perpignan last week, at home to Grenoble.
A home victory would appear likely in that one as Grenoble last season managed to win almost all their home games whilst losing almost all their away ones.
Newly-promoted Oyonnax continue their baptism of fire in the top flight as they host favourites Clermont, who won narrowly at Biarritz last week while their hosts were being put to the sword in Bayonne.
The latter travel to traditional giants Toulouse, fresh from a surprise reverse at Bordeaux-Begles, in which coach Guy Noves complained bitterly about the refereeing.
Bayonne's Basque neighbours Biarritz host Montpellier while former European champions Brive entertain Bordeaux-Begles and Stade Francais, disappointing in their defeat at Grenoble last week, head to Catalonia to face Perpignan.
Toulon v Racing Metro
Oyonnax v Clermont, Castres v Grenoble, Perpignan v Stade Français, Toulouse v Bayonne, Biarritz v Montpellier, Brive v Bordeaux-Begles