Preview: Top 14, Round 19

Date published: March 6 2015

It's a big weekend in both the race for the play-offs and the relegation battle as the Top 14 returns to action.

After Oyonnax and Toulouse kick things off on Friday night, Bordeaux-Bègles will be looking to add another scalp to their collection when they host Stade Français.

Later on it's do or die time for Castres at home to relegation rivals Lyon, while Clermont and Montpellier will expect home wins against Bayonne and La Rochelle respectively.

In Le Havre Racing-Métro will be keen to keep their push for a top two spot alive before Toulon welcome lowly Brive to finish things off.

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

Bordeaux-Bègles v Stade Français
Stade Chaban Delmas, Bordeaux

Toulon were the latest side to be sent packing from the Stade Chaban Delmas, and on current form, Stade Français are very much underdogs in Bordeaux.

While UBB were put under pressure last time out against Toulon, and needed an unlikely score on the stroke of half-time to turn things around, they really stepped it up in the second half.

Still the most entertaining team in the league, Bordeaux have been nigh on unstoppable at home, whereas Stade followed up a first home defeat with a crushing loss at Bayonne.

A year on from their second half of the season collapse that saw them go from top spot to out of the play-offs, Stade will be desperate to avoid a repeat.

In that sense, any return from a trip to Bordeaux will go down well, but they are more likely to be targeting next week's clash with Grenoble.

A win would help Bordeaux cement their position in the top six, as well as reinforcing Raphaël Ibanez's case to be Philippe Saint-André's successor with France.

Bordeaux-Bègles: tbc

Stade Français: tbc

Result last season: Bordeaux-Bègles won 45-23
Kick-off: 14:45 local (13:45 GMT)
Referee: Cyril Lafon

Castres v Lyon
Stade Pierre Antoine, Castres

When Castres went down at Oyonnax a fortnight ago, it left them with no margin for error, and the great escape will have to start at home to Lyon.

Five points from safety with just eight games to go, Castres are in an unfamiliar position. Lose this weekend and any hope of survival will go out the window.

While Richie Gray's season is over, they do have the luxury of some key returns, including that of Rory Kockott, back in the French squad but with an equally important task to complete beforehand.

The South African-born scrum-half has had a tough season, just like his club, but if he can find his form, they stand a chance. Lyon come into the game in good form though, despite slipping back into the bottom two last time out.

On that occasion they snatched a late bonus point at Toulouse, and with three home games in their last four to finish the season, the next month is all about staying in touch before the home straight.

Castres: 15 Julien Dumora, 14 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 13 Thomas Combezou, 12 Romain Cabannes, 11 Rémy Grosso, 10 Rémi Talès, 9 Rory Kockott, 8 Johnnie Beattie, 7 Yannick Caballero, 6 Jannie Bornman, 5 Rodrigo Capo Ortega, 4 Christophe Samson, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Brice Mach, 1 Yannick Forestier
Replacements: 16 Marc-Antoine Rallier, 17 Saimone Taumoepeau, 18 Ibrahim Diarra, 19 Benjamin Desroche, 20 Cedric Garcia, 21 Daniel Kirkpatrick, 22 Max Evans, 23 Karena Wihongi

Lyon: 15 Jérôme Porical, 14 Toby Arnold, 13 Kendrick Lynn, 12 Fabrice Estebanez, 11 Mosese Ratuvou, 10 Stephen Brett, 9 Ricky Januarie, 8 Pierrick Gunther, 7 George Smith, 6 Julien Puricelli, 5 Lionel Nallet, 4 Mickaël De Marco, 3 Anthony Roux, 2 Jean-Philippe Bonrepaux, 1 Emmanuel Felsina
Replacements: 16 Damien Fitzpatrick, 17 Bogdan Balan, 18 Deon Fourie, 19 Karim Ghezal, 20 Mathieu Lorée, 21 Waisale Sukanaveita, 22 Romain Loursac, 23 Horatiu Pungea

Previous result: The teams drew 6-6 in 2012
Kick-off: 18.30 local (17.30 GMT)
Referee: Alexandre Ruiz

Clermont v Bayonne
Stade Marcel Michelin, Clermont-Ferrand

As far as mismatches go, the home juggernaut that is Clermont will expect maximum points against Bayonne.

The Basque side have regularly written off this game in the past, and while they can't afford to give up any points, it's tough to see them picking up anything in the Massif Central.

Clermont might be without Morgan Parra for ten weeks, but Ludovic Radosavljevic has been an able deputy this season, while the big news is the return to fitness of Aurélien Rougerie.

The iconic centre has been out since January but was playing as well as anyone in France prior to that. He provides a balance in the Clermont midfield that has been lacking in recent weeks, and if he can get back up to speed quickly, they will be an altogether more dangerous proposition.

Currently top of the table, Clermont can move closer to a home semi-final with a win, while Bayonne know next week's game against Castres is altogether more important in their battle for survival.

Clermont: 15 Jean-Marcellin Buttin, 14 Noa Nakaitaci, 13 Aurélien Rougerie, 12 Benson Stanley, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Brock James, 9 Ludovic Radosavljevic, 8 Peceli Yato, 7 Alexandre Lapandry, 6 Julien Bonnaire (c), 5 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 4 Jamie Cudmore, 3 Clément Ric, 2 John Ulugia, 1 Vincent Debaty
Replacements: 16 Ti'i Paulo, 17 Thomas Domingo, 18 Julien Pierre, 19 Damien Chouly, 20 Thierry Lacrampe, 21 Mike Delany, 22 Napolioni Nalaga, 23 Daniel Kotze

Bayonne: 15 Martin Bustos-Moyano, 14 Bastien Fuster, 13 Lalakai Foketi, 12 Gabiriele Lovobalavu, 11 Jon Elissalde, 10 Mathieu Ugalde, 9 Bastien Duhalde, 8 Charles Ollivon, 7 Lisiate Fa'aoso, 6 Jean Monribot, 5 Allan Gravier, 4 Dewald Senekal, 3 Gert Muller, 2 David Roumieu, 1 Lucas Pointud
Replacements: 16 Simon Labouyrie, 17 Florian Lapeyrade, 18 Pelu Taele, 19 Baptiste Chouzenoux, 20 Guillaume Rouet, 21 Clement Otazo, 22 Clement Ancely, 23 JC van Rensburg

Result last season: Clermont won 55-0
Kick-off: 18.30 local (17.30 GMT)
Referee: Maxime Chalon

Montpellier v La Rochelle
Altrad Stadium, Montpellier

They lost in Grenoble but Montpellie appear to be turning a corner, and will need a victory over La Rochelle to stay in touch in the battle for a play-off place.

While they are currently ninth in the table, they are only four points away from sixth-placed Bordeaux, so a big win over La Rochelle will get them right back in contention.

The good news is that François Trinh-Duc is nearing a return, and given how their season fell apart when he broke his leg, it's impossible to overstate how much he will bring to the side.

As for La Rochelle, well they did the job last time out against Brive, but they don't have an easy finish to the season. With Toulon, Stade Français and Racing-Métro all set to head to Marcel Deflandre, Patrice Collazo's side need to pick up as many points on their travels as possible. Away at Montpellier would be a good place to start.

Montpellier: 15 Timoci Nagusa, 14 Samisoni Viriviri, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Anthony Tuitavake, 11 Lucas Dupont, 10 Ben Lucas, 9 Benoit Paillaugue, 8 Akapusi Qera, 7 Ben Mowen, 6 Fulgence Ouedraogo (c), 5 Sitaleki Timani, 4 Robins Tchale-Watchou, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Charles Géli, 1 Yvan Watremez
Replacements: 16 Mickaël Ivaldi, 17 Mikheil Nariashvili, 18 Antoine Battut, 19 Alex Tulou, 20 Jonathan Pélissié, 21 Enzo Selponi, 22 Robert Ebersohn, 23 Pat Cilliers

La Rochelle: 15 Kini Murimurivalu, 14 Alofa Alofa, 13 Malietoa Hingano, 12 Levani Botia, 11 Sireli Bobo, 10 Jean-Pascal Barraque, 9 Julien Berger, 8 Kevin Gourdon, 7 Jone Qovu, 6 Loann Goujon, 5 Leandro Cedaro, 4 Romana Graham, 3 Uini Atonio (c), 2 Hika Forbes, 1 Thomas Synaeghel
Replacements: 16 Benjamin Geledan, 17 Vincent Pelo, 18 Mathieu Tanguy, 19 Nicolas Djebaili, 20 Julien Audy, 21 Fabien Fortassin, 22 Eliott Roudil, 23 Benoit Bourrust

Previous result: Montpellier won 26-6 in 2010
Kick-off: 18.30 local (17.30 GMT)
Referee: Sébastien Minery

Racing-Métro v Grenoble
Stade Océane, Le Havre

Last season Valentin Courrent's last-gasp penalty gave Grenoble an unlikely win at Racing, the Parisians will be eager to avoid a similar slip-up on the coast this weekend.

Moving the game to the Stade Océane in Le Havre, Racing need to bounce back from a draw at home to Clermont a fortnight ago.

While Johnny Sexton and Jamie Roberts are among those being rested after the intensity of the first three rounds of the Six Nations, there are still a number of key players available to Laurent Travers and Laurent Labit.

In each of the last two seasons Grenoble have fallen apart in the closing weeks of the season, last year going from play-off contenders to relegation candidates as their form deserted them.

They look better-equipped to avoid that sort of collapse this year, but they will be without Rory Grice for four weeks after the New Zealander was somewhat harshly banned for a late hit of Ben Lucas.

In Jonathan Wisniewski they have arguably the best goal-kicker in the league, and he'll have a point to prove against the team that let him go in the off-season.

With another trip north to take on the other Parisian side next week, Grenoble probably need a result in one of their next two games to keep pace with the top six.

Racing-Métro: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Juan Imhoff, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 Henry Chavancy, 11 Marc Andreu, 10 Benjamin Dambielle, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Antonie Claassen, 7 Camille Gerondeau, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 François van der Merwe, 4 Juandre Kruger, 3 Luc Ducalcon, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski (c), 1 Eddy Ben Arous
Replacements: 16 Virgile Lacombe, 17 Julien Brugnaut, 18 Tomas Lavanini, 19 Thibault Dubarry, 20 Mike Phillips, 21 Johan Goosen, 22 Yoan Audrin, 23 Brian Mujati

Grenoble: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Daniel Kilioni, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Nigel Hunt, 11 Xavier Mignot, 10 Jonathan Wisniewski, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Florian Faure, 7 Henry Vanderglas, 6 Peter Kimlin, 5 Hendrik Roodt, 4 Ben Hand, 3 Dayna Edwards, 2 Arnaud Héguy, 1 Fabien Barcella
Replacements: 16 Laurent Bouchet, 17 Denis Coulson, 18 Jono Owen, 19 Ross Skeate, 20 Mahamadou Diaby, 21 Joannes Henry, 22 Jackson Willison, 23 Fabien Gengenbacher

Result last season: Grenoble won 22-20
Kick-off: 18.45 local (17.45 GMT)
Referee: Laurent Cardona

Toulon v Brive
Stade Félix Mayol, Toulon

For half an hour last week, Toulon looked ominously good as they threatened to tear Bordeaux-Bègles apart.

Then an error from Delon Armitage late in the first half gave the home side a way back into the game before Toulon fell apart.

The defending champions remain the favourites to retain their title, but they've not quite been firing over the last few weeks.

A home game against Brive should be a nice way to ease back into form. Les Coujous were unable to come away with anything at La Rochelle, and will almost certainly have their focus turned towards next week's home game with Racing.

Last year Toulon won this game 62-12, while they also racked up a half-century at Amédée Domenech against 14 men earlier this season. Brive have got one away win under their belts this season, at Montpellier, but this would be a much more surprising result.

Toulon: 15 Delon Armitage, 14 Josua Tuisova, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 David Smith, 10 Nicolas Sánchez, 9 Sébastien Tillous-Borde, 8 Chris Masoe, 7 Steffon Armitage, 6 Juan Smith, 5 Jocelino Suta, 4 Romain Taofifenua, 3 Carl Hayman (c), 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Xavier Chiocci
Replacements: 16 Jean-Charles Orioli, 17 Alexandre Menini, 18 Ali Williams, 19 Juan-Martin Fernández Lobbe, 20 Drew Mitchell, 21 Juan-Martin Hernández, 22 Eric Escande, 23 Levan Chilachava

Brive: tbc

Result last season:Toulon won 62-12
Kick-off: 20.45 local (19.45 GMT)
Referee: Cedric Marchat