Preview: Top 14, Round 13

Date published: December 2 2016

After a rare week off the Top 14 returns, and while lots of the focus will be on the FFR presidential election, there should be some good rugby on show.

With French supporters relatively pleased with the improved performances of Les Bleus this November, the onus is on the Top 14 to maintain that optimism.

It all kicks off in the Béarn on Saturday when Pau host Clermont, before Stade Français welcome a resurgent Bayonne and Lyon entertain Castres.

Grenoble are in must-win mode against Montpellier and the evening fixture is arguably the game of the weekend as La Rochelle host champions Racing 92.

On Sunday Toulouse take on Brive and then Toulon face high-flying Bordeaux-Bègles.
 
Fixtures:

Saturday
Pau v Clermont
Stade Français v Bayonne
Lyon v Castres
Grenoble v Montpellier
La Rochelle v Racing 92

Sunday
Toulouse v Brive
Toulon v Bordeaux-Bègles
 
Pau v Clermont
Stade du Hameau, Pau
 
With a six-point lead at the top of the table, there’s no question that Clermont are the class of the Top 14 right now, and that was even more evident this week.

Ian Foster and Mike Cron went to visit the club in the Auvergne and gushed with praise over the set-up at the Marcel Michelin.
Whether that means they will be able to turn over a Pau side in desperate need of a victory is another matter. However their consistent ability to challenge at the very summit of the French game is at least in part down to having some of the best training facilities in the country.

This weekend they find themselves a little thin at full-back with both Nick Abendanon and Scott Spedding out injured.
Pau, meanwhile, can call on their trio of All Blacks in Colin Slade, Conrad Smith and Tom Taylor, as well as emerging winger Louis Dupichot.
 
Teams: TBC
 
Last year’s result: Clermont won 16-10
Kick-off: 14:45 local (13:45 GMT)
Referee: Pierre Brousset
 

Stade Français v Bayonne
Stade Jean Bouin, Paris
 
At the start of November Bayonne looked dead and buried without a win since the opening day of the season. While they are still only 13th in the table, they have now beaten Toulon, Clermont and Toulouse this season and are back in touch with the battle for survival.

They have yet to pick up a point on their travels however, and will surely need to change that statistic to beat the drop. This weekend they face a Stade team which welcomes back Will Genia for international duty. Australia will surely miss him, but the Parisians will be expecting a lot from their experienced Wallaby.

Meanwhile Jules Plisson will be looking to build on his impressive display against Montpellier last time out after a difficult first half of the season.
 
Teams: TBC
 
Previous result: Stade won 34-29 in Paris
Kick-off: 18:30 local (17:30 GMT)
Referee: Mathieu Raynal
 

Lyon v Castres
Matmut Stadium, Lyon
 
On the surface two wins from their last five for Lyon doesn’t make for the prettiest reading, but in truth Pierre Mignoni’s team looking to be finding some form.

Narrowly beaten at both Clermont and Montpellier – picking up bonus points on each occasion, they need to build on that against Castres. Christophe Urios’ team are currently sixth in the table, but with the likes of Racing and Toulouse just behind them in the table, their position is precarious.

Add in the confirmation this week that Antoine Dupont will leave the club, and a victory would be a welcome fillip.
 
Teams: TBC
 
Previous result: Lyon won 28-18 in 2014
Kick-off: 18:30 local (17:30 GMT)
Referee: Juan Sylvestre (UAR)
 

Grenoble v Montpellier
Stade des Alpes, Grenoble
 
Bayonne’s recent revival has left Grenoble trailing at the foot of the table, their cause not helped by a controversial defeat to Bordeaux when a potentially crucial try was chalked off.

That need to be forgotten now though, with the priority being to beat Montpellier and avoid being cut adrift. Already teams are circling with an eye on next season and who to pick up in case of relegation, but a win here could close the gap at the bottom.

Montpellier have had a turbulent week with the departure of Abdellatif Benazzi. The 90s great will not be the last out of the door ahead of Vern Cotter’s arrival, but it remains to be seen whether all the upheaval will affect Les Cistes in the play-off race.
 
Teams: TBC
 
Last year’s result: Montpellier won 30-19
Kick-off: 18:30 local (17:30 GMT)
Referee: Romain Poite
 
 
La Rochelle v Racing 92
Stade Marcel Deflandre, La Rochelle
 
La Rochelle have been the story of the season so far, but their loss to Bordeaux, 26-0 last time out was quite the reality check. Of course they were without their two French internationals, first choice tighthead Uini Atonio and one of November’s breakout stars in Kevin Gourdon.

Their return should make a difference but they face a Racing team who desperately need to start picking up wins on the road. Their only points on their travels so far this season came with victory away to Bayonne at the end of October.
 
Teams: TBC
 
Last year’s result: Racing won 30-14
Kick-off: 20:45 local (19:45 GMT)
Referee: Jérôme Garcès
 
Toulouse v Brive
Stade Ernest Wallon
 
The November internationals were always going to be tricky for Toulouse, but narrow losses on the road to La Rochelle and then Bayonne will have left Ugo Mola thinking what might have been.

Add in a little dig from Guy Novès about the quality of rugby being played and the pressure is on. Still, the future at the club looks bright with some relatively early signings announced including the aforementioned Dupont.

For now Sébastien Bézy will want to prove Toulouse already have one top quality scrum-half, up against his brother’s team. The last time these teams met Bézy was the villain when his potentially match-winning conversion was charged down from in front. Toulouse can’t afford a similar error against Brive, who sit one place and one point behind them in ninth.
 
Teams: TBC
 
Last year’s result: Toulouse won 24-7
Kick-off: 12:30 local (11:30 GMT)
Referee: Adrien Descottes
 
Toulon v Bordeaux-Bègles
Stade Félix Mayol, Toulon
 
Bordeaux have won six of their last seven games in the Top 14, and as a result find themselves in the heady heights of second.
Of course only four points separate them from seventh and out of the play-offs, so the pressure is still very much on away to Toulon on Sunday.

Last season this fixture was an underwhelming finale to Bordeaux’s season, Metuisela Talebula getting sent off in a thrashing at Mayol.

They should arrive for this one with a lot more confidence, but their record at Mayol is dreadful. Toulon have spent the last two weeks itching to put right an embarrassing performance at Castres where they seemed disinterested. Mike Ford knows only too well that displays like that will not be tolerated for long.
 
Teams: TBC
 
Last year’s result: Toulon won 44-3
Kick-off: 16:15 local (15:15 GMT)
Referee: Laurent Cardona

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