Preview: Top 14, Round 1

Date published: August 21 2015

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After Friday's opening fixture, the Top 14 gets back into full swing on Saturday with five games before another on Sunday. 

Last year's finalists Clermont kick things off away at La Rochelle before intriguing outsiders Bordeaux-Bègles and Castres meet at the Stade Chaban Delmas.

Elsewhere Toulouse, without Guy Novès for the first time in two decades, host Brive, while Jake White's Montpellier start at home to Oyonnax.

The last game on Saturday sees Grenoble host promoted Agen, while the other promoted side, Pau, face a tough task as they travel to Stade Français, taking on the champions on Sunday.

Fixtures:

Friday:
Toulon 22-27 Racing 92

Saturday:
La Rochelle v Clermont
Bordeaux-Bègles v Castres
Toulouse v Brive
Montpellier v Oyonnax
Grenoble v Agen

Sunday:
Stade Français v Pau


La Rochelle v Clermont
Stade Marcel Deflandre, La Rochelle

It's been a pretty disastrous pre-season for Clermont, who have lost three key players in the last week.

Ludovic Radosavljevic will be out for two months with an adductor problem, and with Morgan Parra away with France, Clermont are left with two academy scrum-halves, while at hooker it's a similar problem where John Ulugia picked up a serious injury.

Georgian international Iuri Natriashvili will have to step up in his absence, as will Camille Lopez after it was announced that Brock James will be out indefinitely. The Australian fly-half has been suffering with a heart abnormality, and is resting until the problem can be diagnosed.

For La Rochelle, skipper Uini Atonio is away with France, while Fijian duo Levani Botia and Kini Murimurivalu are also absent. Still, La Rochelle only lost once at home in the league last season, and even beat Clermont thanks to a late try from Malietoa Hingano.

They will be after more of the same to kick of the new season after finishing the last one strongly.

Teams: 

La Rochelle: 15 Charles Bouldoire, 14 Gabriel Lacroix, 13 Eliott Roudil, 12 Mali Hingano, 11 David Raikuna, 10 Zack Holmes, 9 Enrico Januarie, 8 Kevin Gourdon, 7 Romain Sazy, 6 Jason Eaton, 5 Leandro Cedaro, 4 Romana Graham, 3 Lekso Kaulashvili, 2 David Roumieu, 1 Mike Corbel
Replacements: 16 Hikairo Forbes, 17 Vincent Pelo, 18 Jone Quvo, 19 Zeno Kieft, 20 Jules le Bail, 21 Fabien Fortassin, 22 Benjamin Lapeyre, 23 Maxime Gau

Clermont: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 David Strettle, 13 Aurélien Rougerie, 12 Benson Stanley, 11 Adrien Planté, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Enzo Sanga, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Alexandre Lapandry, 6 Camille Gerondeau, 5 Loic Jacquet, 4 Paul Jedrasiak, 3 Clément Ric, 2 Pierre Rude, 1 Thomas Domingo
Replacements: 16 Yohan Beheregaray, 17 Raphaël Chaume, 18 Daniel Kotze, 19 Arthur Iturria, 20 Julien Bardy, 21 Charlie Cassang, 22 Patricio Fernandez, 23 Hosea Gear

Last year's result: La Rochelle won 16-12
Kick-off: 14:45 local (12:45 GMT)
Referee: Alexandre Ruiz


Bordeaux-Bègles v Castres
Stade Chaban Delmas, Bordeaux

The last time Castres travelled to the Stade Chaban Delmas they were humiliated, going down 59-7 in arguably the lowest moment of a very difficult season.

They return this year with a new coach, a host of new players, and the ambition of getting back into the play-offs.

Bordeaux have never made the play-offs, but have made it clear that doing so this season is the minimum requirement.

To do so, UBB will need to improve on their home record, having produced some sensational displays, but also lost three home games, all by a single point.

Had they managed to win any of those matches, they'd have made the top six, and their recruitment drive this off-season shows they mean business.

They will have to cope without new signings Adam Ashley-Cooper and Sekope Kepu, as well as the electric Metuisela Talebula, but there is still plenty of talent waiting in the wings.

Castres arguably have greater experience, under new boss Christophe Urios, who arrives from Oyonnax.

Coming with him are Benjamin Urdapilleta, one of the league's best kickers, as well as Antoine Tichit to shore up a wobbling scrum.

While a win at Bordeaux on the opening day will take some doing, Castres should be a markedly improved side this year.

Teams: 

Bordeaux-Bègles: 15 Jean-Marcellin Buttin, 14 Jean-Baptiste Dubie, 13 Felix le Bourhis, 12 Charles Brousse, 11 Blair Connor, 10 Pierre Bernard, 9 Baptiste Serin, 8 Marco Tauleigne, 7 Matthew Clarkin, 6 Louis Madaule, 5 Jandré Marais, 4 Julien Le Devedec, 3 Albert Toetu, 2 Beñat Auzqui, 1 Jefferson Poirot
Replacements: 16 Clément Maynadier, 17 Jean-Baptiste Poux, 18 Berend Botha, 19 Peter Saili, 20 Hugh Chalmers, 21 Yann Lesgourgues, 22 Julian Rey, 23 Francisco Gomez Kodela

Castres: 15 Romain Martial, 14 David Smith, 13 Rudi Wulf, 12 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 11 Remy Grosso, 10 Benjamin Urdapilleta, 9 Julien Seron, 8 Johnnie Beattie, 7 Ibrahim Diarra, 6 Yannick Caballero, 5 Rodrigo Capo Ortega, 4 Christophe Samson, 3 Karena Wihongi, 2 Brice Mach, 1 Antoine Tichit
Replacements: 16 Marc-Antoine Rallier, 17 Florian Houerie, 18 Benjamin Desroches, 19 Mathieu Babillot, 20 Lucas Dupont, 21 Julien Dumora, 22 Florian Vialelle, 23 Yohan Montes.

Last year's result: Bordeaux-Bègles won 59-7
Kick-off: 18:30 local (16:30 GMT)
Referee: Romain Poite


Toulouse v Brive
Stade Ernest Wallon, Toulouse

The start of a new era begins in Toulouse on Saturday as Ugo Mola faces the tough task of replacing Guy Novès in charge of the club.

After more than two decades, nine French titles and four European Cups, Novès has moved on to take over as France coach, leaving Mola with some huge boots to fill.

The off-season was marked by virtually no recruitment, with Gert Muller, one of the few signings, currently out injured.

That should mean some game time for a promising young generation, with the likes of Arthur Bonneval, Yacouba Camara and Julien Marchand hoping to follow in the footsteps of Sébastien Bézy in establishing themselves as first team regulars.

For Brive, a new season brings a familiar challenge, as they look to avoid a relegation battle. Last year their slow start put them under pressure from the off, and their last trip to Ernest Wallon saw them hammered 67-19.

A similar result here is unlikely, and with fewer World Cup absentees than their hosts, they should be less disrupted.

Having said that, a win at Toulouse will still take some doing, Brive first need to prove that they have improved from the side that limped to safety last season.

Teams: 

Toulouse: 15 Maxime Médard, 14 Vincent Clerc, 13 Yann David, 12 Toby Flood, 11 Arthur Bonneval, 10 Luke McAlister, 9 Sébastian Bezy, 8 Gillian Galan, 7 Imanol Harinordoquy, 6 Yacouba Camara, 5 Patricio Albacete, 4 Romain Millo-Chluski, 3 Dorian Aldegheri, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Gurthrö Steenkamp
Replacements: 16 Christopher Tolofua, 17 Cyril Baille, 18 Census Johnston, 19 Edwin Maka, 20 Gregory Lamboley, 21 Talalelei Gray, 22 Jean-Marc Doussain, 23 Florian Fritz

Brive: 15 Romain Sola, 14 Alfi Mafi, 13 Arnaud Mignardi, 12 Benjamin Petre, 11 Malakai Bakaniceva Radikedike, 10 Nicolas Bézy, 9 Teddy Iribaren, 8 Fabien Sanconnie, 7 Said Hireche, 6 Petrus Hauman, 5 Arnaud Mela, 4 Peet Marais, 3 Giorgi Jgenti, 2 Thomas Acquier, 1 Goderdzi Shvelidze
Replacements: 16 Francois da Ros, 17 Lukas Pointud, 18 Victor Lebas, 19 Sisa Koyamaibole, 20 Jean-Baptiste Pejoine, 21 Thomas Laranjeira, 22 Benito Masilevu, 23 Damien Jourdain

Last year's result: Toulouse won 67-19
Kick-off: 18:30 local (16:30 GMT)
Referee: Thomas Charabas


Montpellier v Oyonnax
Altrad Stadium, Montpellier

Last October Montpellier hosted Oyonnax in a game that served as the turning point for their season. 

Midway through the first half Montpellier lost fly-half François Trinh-Duc to a broken leg, and they would go on a losing streak in the two months that followed that saw Fabien Galthié fired.

Jake White has come in as a result, but Trinh-Duc won't be available because of his international commitments.

Instead it will be Ben Lucas who is tasked with running the show from fly-half, while the pack should have plenty of experience with the likes of Thibaut Privat and Ben Mowen leading the way.

For Oyonnax the off-season saw a massive overhaul, with the loss of coach Christophe Urios and the spine of the team.

Whether they can bounce back from that to match last year's results when they finished in the top six to make the play-offs for the very first time remains to be seen.

New signing Piri Weepu is set for his debut but a number of key players are absent, including new signing Fetu'u Vainikolo and his Tongan teammate Viliami Ma'afu.

Teams: 

Montpellier: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Timoci Nagusa, 13 Andrew Smith, 12 Anthony Tuitavake, 11 Benjamin Fall, 10 Ben Lucas, 9 Benoît Paillaugue, 8 Ben Mowen, 7 Kélian Galletier, 6 Wiaan Liebenberg, 5 Paul Willemse, 4 Antoine Battut, 3 Bees Roux, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Schalk van der Merwe
Replacements: 16 Charles Geli, 17 Yvan Watremez, 18 Robins Tchale-Watchou, 19 Sitaleki Timani, 20 Stan Wright, 21 Ilian Perraux, 22 Marvin O'Connor, 23 Pat Cilliers

Oyonnax: 15 Florian Denos, 14 Dug Codjo, 13 Enele Taufa, 12 Eamonn Sheridan, 11Silvère Tian, 10 Nicky Robinson, 9 Fabien Cibray, 8 Pierrick Gunther, 7 Florian Faure, 6 Olivier Missoup, 5 Mickael de Marco, 4 George Robson, 3 Antoine Guillamon, 2 Thomas Bordes, 1 Laurent Delboulbès
Replacements: 16 Jody Jenneker, 17 Marc Clerc, 18 Fabrice Metz, 19 Pedrie Wannenburg, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Regis Lespinas, 22 Vincent Martin, 23 Lukas Rapant

Last year's result: Montpellier won 25-9
Kick-off: 18:30 local (16:30 GMT)
Referee: Laurent Cardona


Grenoble v Agen
Stade des Alpes, Grenoble

Agen return to the top flight after the most entertaining of play-off battles, edging past Perpignan on tries scored in their Pro D2 semi-final before beating Mont de Marsan by a point the following week.

Travelling to Grenoble on the opening day should prove entirely more challenging, not least because Grenoble are the club least affected by World Cup absences.

The team from the Alps impressed in pre-season, travelling to Ireland where they beat both Connacht and Munster. It wasn't surprising that they were further along in their preparations than their Irish opponents, but Grenoble looked good.

They have kept hold of the core of their side, albeit without star winger Alipate Ratini, let go for off-field indiscretions.

Agen have made a couple of signings of their own, but a lot will come down to the performances of half-back pairing Alexis Balès and Burton Francis, who impressed in the play-offs.

Teams: 

Grenoble: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Xavier Mignot, 13 Fabrice Estebanez, 12 Chris Farrell, 11 Armand Battle, 10 Jonathan Wisniewski, 9 Charl Mcleod, 8 Rory Grice, 7 Fabien Alexandre, 6 Mahamadou Diaby, 5 James Percival, 4 Benjamin Hand, 3 Dayna Edwards, 2 Arnaud Héguy, 1 Fabien Barcella
Replacements: 16 Laurent Bouchet, 17 Walter Desmaison, 18 Denis Coulson, 19 Peter Kimlin, 20 Jonathan Best, 21 James Hart, 22 Fabien Gengenbacher, 23 Nigel Hunt

Agen: 15 Mathieu Lamoulie, 14 George Tilsley, 13 Julien Heriteau, 12 Lionel Mazars, 11 Pierre Fouyssac, 10 Burton Francis, 9 Alexis Balès, 8 Marc Giraud, 7 Antoine Erbani, 6 Luke Hamilton, 5 William Demotte, 4 Tom Murday, 3 Dave Ryan, 2 Mike Tadjer, 1 Arsène N'Nomo

Replacements: 16 Hannes Franklin, 17 Giorgi Tetrashvili, 18 Api Naikatini, 19 Corentin Braendlin, 20 Clement Darbo, 21 Bautista Guemes, 22 Eroni Vasiteri Narumasa, 23 Nicolas Chocou

Previous result: Grenoble won 27-13 in 2013
Kick-off: 18:30 local (16:30 GMT)
Referee: Cedric Marchat


Stade Français v Pau
Stade Jean Bouin, Paris

The champions of the Top 14 welcome the champions of Pro D2 on Sunday, in a new time slot for the Top 14.

The Parisians have had a short turnaround this summer because of their Top 14 win, but will benefit from some contentious decisions by Philippe Saint-André with Antoine Burban, Jules Plisson and Jonathan Danty all omitted from France's World Cup squad.

There are some absentees, not least up front where Rabah Slimani and Heinke van der Merwe will be sorely missed, but Stade will hope that Slimani's younger brother Chérif will fill the gap at tighthead.

Promising flanker Sékou Macalou is another to watch out for after his move from Massy and some eye-catching displays for the U20s.

For Pau, the big name signings will not arrive for a little while yet, Conrad Smith is a guaranteed tourist for New Zealand while Colin Slade may well join him.

Old campaigners like Jean Bouilhou and Damien Traille should be able to hold the fort though, as Pau look to do better than last year's Pro D2 champions Lyon.

Teams: 

Stade Français: tbc

Pau: tbc

Previous result: Stade Français won 42-26 in 2006
Kick-off: 16:15 local (14:15 GMT)
Referee: Salem Attalah

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