Preview: Top 14 Round 18

Date published: February 20 2015

After two rounds of the Six Nations it's the Top 14 that returns with two blockbuster clashes this weekend.

Early on Saturday, Toulon travel to Bordeaux to take on arguably the best home advantage in the league, while the final game sees fourth-placed Racing-Métro host third-placed Clermont.

In between there's a huge relegation clash as Oyonnax host bottom side Castres, while Grenoble welcome Montpellier for a key game in the play-off race.

Finally Toulouse entertain Lyon and Stade Français travel to Bayonne in games that will have an effect on both the top and bottom of the table.

Bordeaux-Bègles v Toulon
Bayonne v Stade Français
Grenoble v Montpellier
Oyonnax v Castres
Toulouse v Lyon
Racing-Métro v Clermont

Bordeaux-Bègles v Toulon
Stade Chaban Delmas, Bordeaux

Two years ago Bordeaux handed Toulon their biggest defeat in recent times with a thumping 41-0 win.

While few are predicting a similar result here, Bordeaux have been outstanding on home soil, with Clermont, Castres and Brive having all been hammered at Chaban Delmas.

In fact Toulouse are the only team to have come away with any points from Bordeaux, when they picked up a surprise win back in November.

Raphaël Ibanez's side come into the game on the back of a desperately disappointing loss at 14-man Montpellier, where they dominated until Benoit Paillaugue's sending off, which seemed to affect them more than their hosts.

That saw them drop out of the top six, and a home loss here would leave them playing catch-up to reach the play-offs.

For their part, Toulon battled past Bayonne last time out, and with other results, now find themselves in a three-way tie for top spot.

With all three of the top sides on the road this weekend, a success could see Toulon go top on their own, but they will travel without the likes of Romain Taofifenua and Guilhem Guirado.

Delon Armitage is back from suspension though, while Sébastien Tillous-Borde returns from injury.

Bordeaux-Bègles: tbc

Toulon: tbc

Result last season: Toulon won 22-20
Kick-off: 14:45 local (13:45 GMT)
Referee: Alexandre Ruiz  

Bayonne v Stade Français
Stade Jean Dauger, Bayonne

The last remaining unbeaten home record fell last time out as Stade Français were shocked by Oyonnax. Now the Parisians will want to make up for it against Bayonne.

Funnily enough, defeat actually saw Stade move top of the league, but it will have been little comfort after a disappointing performance.

They will be without second row Pascal Papé for two and a half months, while Waisea Nayacalevu is also facing a spell on the sidelines with a hand injury.

Bayonne will look to take full advantage, having slipped back into the bottom two with La Rochelle's win on Thursday night.

With everything so tight at the bottom, every home game is vital, but Stade have already picked up wins at Castres, Grenoble and Toulon.

Charles Ollivon returns for Bayonne after his shoulder problems, and his return will be a big boost. Scott Spedding will be missing though as he continues to recover from a knock to the head suffered in Ireland last week.

It's not quite do-or-die time for Bayonne, but it's fair to say they have more riding on this game than their visitors.

Bayonne: tbc

Stade Français: tbc

Result last season: Bayonne won 24-19
Kick-off: 18.30 local (17.30 GMT)
Referee: Mathieu Raynal

Grenoble v Montpellier
Stade des Alpes, Grenoble  

It's a curious stat but since their return to the top flight, the only team Grenoble have never beaten is Montpellier.
With both teams in the thick of a play-off battle, this game is about more than just ending that run, but Grenoble desperately need the win after back-to-back losses.
They've only gone down at home once this season, but over the last two years they have faded in the second half of the season after strong starts.
A loss here to Jake White's side would be catastrophic for their play-off ambitions, but they head into the game as favourites.
For Montpellier, it's difficult to know what to expect. In their last game against Bordeaux, they were being completely outplayed for 20 minutes before losing Benoit Paillaugue to a red card.
That seemed to spark them into life and in the end they ran away with the win.
They've not yet won on the road under White but with no players included in the French squad to take on Wales, they'll have a few men keen to prove a point.
Add to that, the return of François Trinh-Duc to training this week, and the morale should be a little higher than it has been for the last few months in the south of France.
Grenoble: tbc

Montpellier: tbc

Result last season: Montpellier won 36-30
Kick-off: 18.30 local (17:30 GMT)
Referee: Jérôme Garcès

Oyonnax v Castres
Stade Charles Mathon, Oyonnax

If his Oyonnax side pick up the win they so desperately need in their battle to beat the drop, they might end up condemning the side Urios will coach next season.

Castres aren't down yet, but they are bottom of the pile, with only four home games to go in their last nine.

Having not yet picked up a point on their travels, it's clear what needs to change, and if they can't improve their away form, they will follow in the footsteps of the likes of Biarritz and Perpignan in ProD2.

To try to change things around they called on Mauricio Reggiardo, their former prop who has already done this sort of rescue job once at the club.

A hard-nosed front rower, he doesn't seem to have pulled any punches since arriving, and if he can sort out the Castres scrum, that will make a huge difference.

However the bad news keeps on coming, with Rory Kockott out this week, and Richie Gray done for the season, two absences the club can ill-afford.

While they have some options in second row, they also lost Piula Fa'aselele for the rest of the season as well last month, so the squad depth is being tested.

Oyonnax haven't been quite as dominant at home this season as they were a year ago, but they have got the job done against their relegation rivals.

If they can do the same again here, they'll leave Castres teetering on the edge with just eight games remaining.
Oyonnax: tbc

Castres: tbc

Result last season: Oyonnax won 19-9
Kick-off: 18:30 local (17:30 GMT)
Referee: Laurent Cardona

Toulouse v Lyon
Stade Ernest Wallon, Toulouse

Toulouse produced arguably their performance of the season when they hammered Lyon on their own patch in October, but it's not been plain sailing since.

A hard-fought win at Castres last time out saw France's most successful club into the top six again for the first time in months, but they are still not entirely convincing.

A couple of years ago this game would have been a formality, but even at home, Toulouse are a little fragile.

That being said, Lyon travel without George Smith, their standout player and one of, if not the, signing of the season.

In 2015, Lyon have been very tough to beat, seeing off both Clermont and Stade Français at home, while going down narrowly at Bayonne and at home to Racing.

They are still very much involved in the relegation battle, and can't afford to write this one off.

With La Rochelle and Oyonnax having both picked up losing bonus points at Ernest Wallon, Lyon will fancy their chances of getting something out of this one.

Toulouse: tbc

Lyon: 15 Jérôme Porical, 14 Franck Romanet, 13 Kendrick Lynn, 12 Fabrice Estebanez, 11 Mosese Ratuvou, 10 Lachie Munro, 9 Mathieu Lorée, 8 Juan Leguizamon, 7 Deon Fourie, 6 Julien Puricelli, 5 Mickael De Marco, 4 Lionel Nallet, 3 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 2 Jean-Philippe Bonrepaux, 1 Emmanuel Felsina
Replacements: 16 Damien Fitzpatrick, 17 Bogdan Balan, 18 Simon Njewel, 19 Karim Ghezal, 20 Ricky Januarie, 21 Stephen Brett, 22 Romain Loursac, 23 Hoani Tui

Previous result: Toulouse won 51-10
Kick-off: 18:30 local (17:30 GMT)
Referee: Salim Attalah

Racing-Métro v Clermont
Stade Yves du Manoir, Colombes

The game of the weekend sees Racing host Clermont, and the only disappointment is that this falls during the Six Nations period.

While Morgan Parra will be involved for the visitors, Damien Chouly, Wesley Fofana and Camille Lopez are all rested, and for Racing it's a similar story with Jamie Roberts and Bernard le Roux both absent.

Jonathan Sexton will feature though, much to the dismay of Joe Schmidt. The Kiwi coach hoped that Sexton might be preserved this weekend, but it's understandable that Racing might want to use their big-money fly-half who sat out three months for concussion only to be thrown straight back into the Ireland starting lineup against France.

Brice Dulin will also play for the Parisians, as he tries to prove his fitness ahead of France's game with Wales next week.

Of course there is more at stake than places in the French team, with Racing currently six points adrift of the top three.

A win at Colombes and they could be right back in the race for semi-final spot, while defeat would see them dragged back into the battle just to make the play-offs.

As for Clermont, they should be comfortable making the top three either way, but a win here would give them a great shot of finishing the season top of the pile.

Racing-Métro: tbc
Clermont: tbc

Result last season: Racing-Métro won 22-6
Kick-off: 20:45 local (19:45 GMT)
Referee: Romain Poite