Vincent Clerc is anticipating a "fantastic" 2020-21 Top 14 season after the previous campaign was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Bordeaux Begles were eight points clear at the summit with nine games of the regular season remaining when the action was brought to a halt.

The season was scrapped at the end of last month and it is hoped the best teams in France will be back on the field to start again in September.

Former France wing Clerc is expecting big things when rugby union returns in his homeland and thinks the 2019-20 competition was nicely poised for a gripping finale.

He told Stats Perform: "Who impressed me last season? There are players, of course, but if I have to choose a team, it's Bordeaux. They had a fantastic season.

"They are the Top 14 leaders. We have also seen an amazing start for Bayonne. Before the break, Toulouse were coming back. I think it was an undecided/uncertain season.

"This year, Toulon also had a good season. So it was a nice championship this year. I am looking forward to see it starting again.

"I think next season can be fantastic, because the 2019-20 season was very enjoyable. I am looking forward to the next season."

Clerc says the players will need some game time before next season begins.

"No, they [the players] can't be at 100 per cent [in September]. Maybe there will be some friendly games," he added. 

"But if there is no friendly game, the physical preparation and the training sessions will never replace the matches. So they will need some matchdays to find their pace, to find the right intensity.

"Everybody will return to the competition, everybody will try some things and find their balance. But it will take some matchdays, for sure."

The Premiership has been suspended for five weeks and the quarter-finals of the European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup have been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Premiership Rugby's decision followed new guidance from the United Kingdom government on Monday.

British prime minister Boris Johnson encouraged people to avoid mass gatherings and all "non-essential" travel and contact with others.

"The safety of our fans, players and staff is our first priority, and we would like to wish all of those who are affected our heartfelt best wishes and a very speedy recovery," a Premiership Rugby statement read.

"We'll continue to work closely with DCMS [the Departure for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport] and Public Health England, and to follow the advice of medical experts, and work with our clubs to help them to support their own wider communities at this time."

The decision to call off the European rugby season was taken during a conference call on Monday.

It means the matches in the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup scheduled for April 3, 4 and 5 will not now go ahead as planned, although organisers hope to rearrange the fixtures for later dates.

In a statement, the board of European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) said: "While respecting all further directives by governments and local authorities, EPCR, in conjunction with the relevant leagues and unions, remains committed to trying to find a solution which will enable it to complete the 2019-20 Champions Cup and Challenge Cup tournaments at such a time as that aligns with preventative measures undertaken by an overwhelming majority of sport's governing bodies and tournament organisers in Europe.  

"EPCR's priority is the health and welfare of players and club staff, and an update regarding the knockout stages of the tournaments will be communicated to all stakeholders as soon as practicable."

Rory Kockott missed a late conversion as Bordeaux-Begles survived a scare against Castres to stretch their lead at the summit of Top14 thanks in part to the boot of Ben Botica.

Fly-half Kockott had a chance to tie the scores when Anthony Jelonch crossed five minutes from time at Stade Chaban-Delmas but was unable to split the posts.

It meant Bordeaux – now eight points clear of second-place Lyon – held on for a 26-24 triumph despite being outscored four tries to two on home turf, with Castres settling for a losing bonus point.

Botica was crucial to the win, nailing two penalties that opened up breathing space.

Earlier, Blair Connor and Mahamadou Diaby had crossed for Bordeaux to cancel out Julien Caminati and Rodrigo Capo Ortega scores, with Filipo Nakosi also going over for Castres.

There was late drama at Stade Mayol too, with a last-gasp penalty from Toulon fly-half Louis Carbonel swinging an end-to-end match in his side's favour as they beat Stade Francais 19-18.

The result was cruel on Top 14 strugglers Stade, who recorded tries through Lester Etien and Kylan Hamdaoui to make it 18-16 in the closing minutes.

However, Toulon hit back to grab a victory that moves them into the top four in the standings, while their beaten opponents remain bottom. 

Lyon quickly put their European Champions Cup disappointment behind them to return to the Top 14 summit with a comfortable home victory over Toulon on Saturday.

The domestic league leaders failed to advance through their European pool after losing to Leinster and Northampton Saints across the previous two weekends.

But a Top 14 title charge is very much on thanks to their 11th win of the campaign, a 27-12 success as Toulon were held try-less.

Xavier Mignot crossed for Lyon's opener after eight minutes, but Anthony Belleau kicked four first-half penalties to keep Toulon in the match with a narrow half-time lead.

But after Rudi Wulf and then Toby Arnold added further Lyon tries, victory never looked in serious doubt.

Meanwhile, La Rochelle defeated Montpellier 35-30 thanks to a hat-trick from Arthur Retiere in a 15-minute spell either side of half-time.

Retiere crossed in the 32nd, 36th and 46th minutes to put La Rochelle in complete control, their lead 32-11 inside the final half-hour.

But they had to withstand a tense finish after Johan Goosen, Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg and Nemani Nadolo all crossed while Geoffrey Doumayrou was sent off.

Racing 92 had no difficulties as they crushed Castres on the road, Marc-Antoine Rallier's 48th-minute dismissal ending all hopes of a home fightback in a 27-0 reverse.

Brive defeated Pau 33-26 in far more dramatic circumstances, though, as Thomas Laranjeira produced a stunning match-winning turn.

The full-back scored 28 of his side's 33 points, including two tries in the closing stages to down shell-shocked Pau, who had led from the 26th minute until the 77th.

In Saturday's late game, Stade Francais made a strong start but succumbed to a 29-19 loss at Clermont Auvergne.

Bordeaux-Begles have the chance to move back above Lyon and return to the top of the standings when they play away to holders Toulouse on Sunday.

Stade Francais climbed off the foot of the Top 14 table as they stunned last season's champions Toulouse 30-18 in the battle of the French rugby giants.

Dubbed the 'Clasico', such status was questioned in the lead-up to Sunday night's match in Paris. That was because of how far Stade Francais, who like Toulouse have been domestic league champions five times this century, have fallen.

Yet this convincing victory showed all is not lost for the team that parted ways with coach Heyneke Meyer in November, with two tries from flanker Sekou Macalou and one from former Toulouse hero Gael Fickou doing much of the damage.

A pair of early penalties from Thomas Ramos had nudged Toulouse in front, but they trailed 13-6 by the break after Macalou's first try and a conversion, penalty and drop goal from Nicolas Sanchez.

The lively Fickou darted in to score in the 47th minute, and Macalou grabbed his second moments later, sprinting after Fickou's clever kick.

A penalty try after a collapsed scrum handed Toulouse a sliver of hope, but the hosts, coached by Julian Arias and Laurent Sempere for now, were not willing to let their winning position slip at Stade Jean-Bouin.

Joris Segonds fired over a penalty that left Toulouse needing three late tries, effectively killing the contest although they got one at the death when Cheslin Kolbe crossed.

It means Toulouse, fourth going into the weekend, have drifted to seventh place, while Stade nudge up one position to 13th, leaving Agen at the bottom.

Toulon trounced Castres 43-3 at Stade Mayol earlier in the day, helped by three tries in five minutes late in the first half, to reclaim third place after 13 rounds of matches.

After penalty tries for the three-time European champions in the second and 32nd minutes, Louis Carbonel and Romain Taofifenua added to their haul before the interval, with Gervais Cordin and Daniel Ikpefan dotting down after half-time to complete a rout.

Anthony Belleau converted three of the tries and booted a penalty in a match that saw seven yellow cards - three for Toulon, including two for replacement Vernet Corentin who only came off the bench in the 56th minute, and four for Castres.

Rhys Webb will not play for Toulon again this season, according to the club's majority owner Bernard Lemaitre.

Toulon agreed to release Webb from his contract at the end of the campaign so he could move closer to his family in Wales and the following day it was confirmed the scrum-half had signed a deal to join Ospreys.

The switch to the Top 14 in 2018 forced the British and Irish Lion to put his international career on the back burner, but on Friday it was announced his impending return to the Liberty Stadium had earned him special dispensation to represent Wales at the Six Nations.

Webb was left out of Toulon's squad to face Castres on Sunday and Lemaitre said the 31-year-old's "dishonest" attitude meant he would not feature for the team again.

"His family is back in Wales, it's difficult for him. We made huge amounts of time for him to be able to go back and see his family in Wales," Lemaitre told Sud Radio.

"All of a sudden we learn he has already signed for Ospreys and his agent had already negotiated with the Welsh Rugby Union that he can be selected. It's a dishonest attitude.

"It takes us to a situation where I think Rhys Webb will not play in the Toulon shirt again. The adventure will be cut short."

Rhys Webb will return to Ospreys next season after signing a two-year deal with the Welsh province.

Wales scrum-half Webb swapped Ospreys for Toulon in 2018 but the Top 14 side confirmed on Monday he will be free to leave at the end of the campaign, despite having a contract until 2021.

The 31-year-old's wife and three children moved back to Wales at the start of 2019, making him keen to return earlier than planned.

Webb made 154 appearances and scored 39 tries over a 10-year stint with Ospreys and is excited to be heading back to the Liberty Stadium.

"It's just great to come back where rugby all started for me," said Webb. "I am really looking forward to the challenge and fighting for the Ospreys jersey again.

"I have loved my time in Toulon but it's a relief to come home to the Ospreys, it's where my family are, where I was brought up, and where rugby all started for me.

"To return to play for my home region again is just really special for me and I am so grateful for the opportunity to be able to do that again.

"As I said at the time, nobody turns down Toulon and I wanted to experience something different. 

"I am thankful that they have released me a year early from my contract and I am as excited about returning to the Ospreys as I was at going to France.

"Everybody knows how important my family is to me and being able to return home, especially to the Ospreys is massive for me.

"I just can't wait to pull the jersey on again and to run out in front of my fellow Ospreylians."

News of Webb's return follows confirmation on Monday that head coach Allen Clarke had officially departed the club after being stood down in November.

Rhys Webb will leave Toulon at the end of the season and return to Wales, the Top 14 club have announced.

Wales scrum-half Webb asked to be released from his contract a year early for family reasons – his wife and three children moved back to Wales in January 2019 – and Toulon obliged.

According to reports, the 31-year-old will join the Ospreys or the Dragons for the 2020-21 Pro14 season, something that would enable him to resume his international career.

In a statement posted on Toulon's official website, Webb said: "I would like to thank the club for the welcome and support it has given me since I joined last season.

"It has been and remains an honour to play for this great club. I loved all the time I spent here and I would especially like to thank my team-mates, coaches, supporters and all those who are now like friends and family for life.

"It was difficult for me to be away from my family and my young children. From now on, I am determined to give my best for the club until the end of the season and I hope we will get the victories the club deserves."

Webb has made 26 appearances for Toulon and scored three tries. His last Wales cap came against South Africa in December 2017.

Toulouse and Toulon lost ground on the leading two as Bordeaux-Begles returned to the Top 14 summit at the expense of Lyon on Sunday.

Reigning champions Toulouse surrendered a comfortable lead to draw 13-13 at home to Toulon, while Bordeaux emerged 27-23 victors at Pau despite a late scare.

A Thomas Ramos penalty got Toulouse off the mark and the full-back converted Sebastien Bezy's 14th-minute try to send them into half-time in control.

Another three points from the tee courtesy of Ramos put the hosts 13 ahead, but Louis Carbonel reduced the arrears when he crossed in the 52nd minute.

France scrum-half Antoine Dupont made his return from a back injury sustained at the Rugby World Cup and helped Toulon salvage a draw, with a pair of Anthony Belleau penalties ensuring the spoils were shared.

The result was a boost for Bordeaux, who scored the first try of their game against Pau despite being down to 14 men after Remi Lamerat was shown a yellow card.

Scott Higginbotham was the man who crossed, before Santiago Cordero touched down twice – the second while Dominiko Waqaniburotu was in the sin bin.

Bordeaux took a 14-point lead when Tom Taylor was shown a yellow card and conceded a penalty try in the 60th minute, with Antoine Hastoy converting a Daniel Ramsey try and adding a three-pointer from the tee at the death to ensure Pau left with a losing bonus point.

Clermont Auvergne were temporarily reduced to 13 men in the second half of their 39-22 triumph over Castres.

Sebastien Vahaamahina was shown a yellow card for repeated infringements and Anthony Jelonch darted over after Rory Kockott took the penalty quickly.

Sitaleki Timani responded to Kockott touching his head as he went to celebrate with his team-mates by striking the Castres scrum-half in the face. After the ensuing melee, Kockott was sent to the sin bin and Timani was shown a red card.

Castres used their numerical advantage to run in another two tries, but Morgan Parra and Greig Laidlaw kept them at bay from the tee.

La Rochelle lost to Bordeaux last weekend but returned to winning ways at home to struggling Agen, running in six tries in a 40-8 triumph.

Montpellier ran in five tries in a 33-8 rout of Top 14 leaders Lyon as Bordeaux-Begles closed the gap at the summit by edging past Racing 92. 

Lyon - beaten in the semi-finals last season - had won eight of their first nine games in this campaign but they were blown away by Montpellier, who were 21-0 up at half-time thanks to tries from Nemani Nadolo, Bismarck Du Plessis and Louis Picamoles.

The visitors finally got on the board with a Jonathan Wisniewski penalty in the 51st minute but further scores from Nico Janse van Rensburg and Youri Delhommel increased Montpellier's lead before Xavier Mignot crossed for a consolation late on.

Bordeaux took advantage of Lyon's slip up with a 34-30 victory over Racing as Matthieu Jalibert provided 14 points from the boot.

It was announced this week that Semi Radradra will join Premiership side Bristol Bears for next season but the Fiji international showed he was not distracted by his upcoming move with two of Bordeaux's four tries.

Sergio Parisse scored Toulon's try in a 19-9 success over Pau, while Brock James and Jules Plisson kicked five penalties between them as La Rochelle defeated Castres 22-13.

Clermont Auvergne were also victorious, a strong second-half display helping them to a 30-13 triumph over Agen.

Top 14 champions Toulouse maintained their 100 per cent home record this season with a dominant 34-8 defeat of Clermont Auvergne.

Toulouse have worryingly lost each of their first five away games this term, but they have been untouchable at home and that trend continued on Saturday.

In the day's late kick-off, a repeat of last season's final, the hosts stormed into a 24-0 half-time lead thanks to tries from Sofiane Guitoune, Maxime Medard and Romain Ntamack.

Clermont failed to cross in the 2018-19 decider and their breakthrough score counted for little here, with Alivereti Raka's 46th-minute try unable to inspire a fightback.

Gillian Galan then secured a bonus point at the other end 10 minutes from time.

Earlier in the day, Bordeaux-Begles moved level on points with Lyon, who play on Sunday, at the top of the table after seeing off Agen at home.

The visitors were held scoreless as Bordeaux stayed patient, building on a 6-0 advantage at the break with tries from Santiago Cordero and Yann Lesgourgues.

Montpellier played out a draw for the second time this season as Anthony Belleau's penalty four minutes from time earned a share of the spoils for Toulon at 19-19.

There was late drama at Castres, too, where Brive were agonisingly denied by an 81st-minute kick from Julien Dumora.

Francois Da Ros' try two minutes earlier looked to have earned Brive an away win, but Dumora kept his nerve in a 28-26 success.

Meanhile, Pau scraped past Bayonne 9-3 in a game of no tries.

Bordeaux-Begles could lose ground on Top 14 leaders Lyon after slipping to their second defeat in three matches at Brive.

Mahamadou Diaby's ninth-minute dismissal proved decisive as Christophe Urios' Bordeaux were beaten 30-9, the extra man proving telling for the hosts in the final 15 minutes.

Brive's lead was only 16-9 going into the final quarter of an hour but Julien Blanc and Matthieu Voisin went over to make the points safe on Saturday.

Lyon have a four-point lead over Bordeaux and can stretch that with a win over Clermont Auvergne on Sunday.

Bayonne could have closed the gap on the top two but instead fell to a 20-9 loss at the hands of Toulon.

Defending champions Toulouse's poor start to the season continued at Montpellier – who ran out 33-22 winners thanks to a double from Gabriel Ngandebe and 15 points from the boot of Anthony Bouthier.

Elsewhere, Pau beat Castres 37-24 while struggling Paris clubs Racing 92 and Stade Francais remain in the bottom two after defeats to La Rochelle and Agen respectively.

Lyon remain unbeaten in the Top 14 after swatting aside struggling Racing 92, though they did concede their first tries of the season.

Noa Nakaitaci, Hamza Kaabeche and Thibaut Regard all crossed for Lyon as they made it five wins from five in a 31-20 victory in Paris.

Juan Imhoff and Brice Dulin became the first players to breach the Lyon line in the 2019-20 campaign but Racing are second bottom with just one win from five after a game that saw Teddy Iribaren and Lyon's Mickael Ivaldi sin-binned after a first-half brawl.

Defending champions Toulouse won for just the second time this term as they held on to see of Pau 24-23, while Bayonne beat La Rochelle by a one-point margin, winning 23-22 despite seeing Census Johnston sent off late in the first half.

Thomas Laranjeira kicked 22 points for Brive as they moved off the bottom with a 39-17 win over Toulon, and Castres claimed a narrow 30-27 victory over Agen.

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