Preview: Top 14, Round Five

Date published: September 12 2014

After four games in the Top 14 we are starting to get a real feel for where teams stand, with Montpellier and Clermont sharing top spot.

After four games in the Top 14 we are starting to get a real feel for where teams stand, with Montpellier and Clermont sharing top spot.

They both face difficult away games this weekend, at Bordeaux-Bègles and Toulouse respectively, and any slip-up could give Toulon the chance to leapfrog them.

The reigning champions host Stade Français, with both sides having won three of their first four games, but neither convincing last time out at home.

Elsewhere Grenoble can really prove they are play-off contenders if they can win at Oyonnax, while Bayonne and Racing have to win at home to Brive and Lyon for different reasons.

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

Toulouse v Clermont

Fresh from two fruitless away trips, Toulouse probably would have preferred an easier game than Clermont, especially with their current front row problems.

Already without Gurthro Steenkamp (Rugby Championship) and Schalk Ferreira (torn biceps), Guy Noves was also missing Vasil Kakovin and Census Johnston last week with some confusion as to when the Samoan will be fit again.

Off-season signings Kisi Pulu and Neemia Tialata have been disappointing so far, and with Clermont looking strong at the set-piece, it's difficult to see Toulouse turning things around this week.

So it will have to be elsewhere that Toulouse win the game, and despite last week's loss at Brive, there were some promising signs from the backline.

Clermont come into the game with a few problems of their own, after Zac Guildford was ruled out for the best part of a month after being beaten up on Saturday night.

Add to that some front row question marks of their own, in particular with injuries to Davit Zirakashvili and Vincent Debaty, and there's a chance Clermont see this is as a chance to recover after a good start to the season.

Toulouse have not lost at home to Clermont since 2010, and the visitors have never won at Ernest Wallon. That record will need to be maintained if they are to keep pace with the teams at the top of the table.

Toulouse: 15 Clement Poitrenaud, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Yann David, 12 Gael Fickou, 11 Maxime Medard, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Joe Tekori, 7 Thierry Dusautoir (c), 6 Yannick Nyanga, 5 Patricio Albacete, 4 Yoann Maestri, 3 Neemia Tialata, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Kisi Pulu.
Replacements: 16 Christopher Tolofua, 17 Rodrigue Neti, 18 Cyril Baille, 19 Edwin Maka, 20 Gregory Lamboley, 21 Romain Millo-Chluski, 22 Jean-Marc Doussain, 23 Florian Fritz

Clermont: 15 Jean-Marcellin Buttin, 14 Napolioni Nalaga, 13 Aurelien Rougerie, 12 Noa Naikataci, 11 Julien Malzieu, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Ludovic Radosavljevic, 8 Damie Chouly (c), 7 Julien Bardy, 6 Julien Bonnaire, 5 Loic Jacquet, 4 Julien Pierre, 3 Davit Zirakashvili, 2 John Ulugia, 1 Thomas Domingo
Replacements: 16 Ti'i Paulo, 17 Raphael Chaume, 18 Paul Jedrasiak, 19 Viktor Kolelishvili, 20 Thierry Lacrampe, 21 Mike Delany, 22 Nick Abendanon, 23 Daniel Kotze

Date: Saturday, September 13
Venue: Stade Ernest Wallon
Kick-off: 14.45 local (13.45 GMT)
Referee: Salem Attalah
Assistant referees: Pascal Pechambert, Laurent Sclafer

Bayonne v Brive

Blair Stewart's late penalty gave Bayonne an unexpected point on the road last week, but it will mean nothing if they can't back it up on home soil.

The Basque side have already lost once at Jean Dauger – on the opening day against Toulon – but at home to Brive they simply cannot afford to slip up.

There were some promising signs in Paris, notably up front where Bayonne looked a team transformed as they shoved the Stade scrum around.

That will be key against Brive, who thrive on bullying their opponents, and did so to great effect against Toulouse.

Even with that dominance, Brive required a moment of island magic to win last weekend, with Benito Masilevu producing a sensational sidestep to race away for the winning try.

That moment earned him a new contract which he signed this week, and if Bayonne give him any space at all, he will be almost impossible to stop.

The problem for Brive is that their last win on the road in the Top 14 was back in early 2012, and having already dropped points at home, they need to make up for it with some points away from Amédée Domenech.

Whether they will come at Bayonne remains to be seen, but there are tougher away games out there, and at least a point would come in very handy.

Bayonne: 15 Scott Spedding, 14 Joe Rokocoko, 13 Mathieu Ugalde, 12 Santiago Fernandez, 11 Marvin O'Connor, 10 Blair Stewart, 9 Guillaume Rouet, 8 Charles Ollivon, 7 Dwayne Haare, 6 Mark Chisholm (c), 5 Lisiate Fa'aoso, 4 Dewald Senekal, 3 Gert Muller, 2 Anthony Etrillard, 1 Aretz Iguiniz
Replacements: 16 Simon Labouyrie, 17 Janse van Rensburg, 18 Giorgi Jgenti, 19 Opeti Fonua, 20 Jean Monribot, 21 Christophe Loustalot, 22 Pierre Gayraud, 23 Jon Elissalde

Brive: 15 Gaetan Germain, 14 Benito Masilevu, 13 Arnaud Mignardi, 12 Andrew Malilei, 11 Guillaume Namy, 10 Thomas Laranjeira, 9 Jean-Baptiste Pejoine, 8 Petrus Hauman, 7 Dominiko Waqaniburotu, 6 Poutasi Luafutu, 5 Peet Marais, 4 Simon Pinet, 3 Kevin Buys, 2 Guillaume Ribes, 1 Johannes Coetzee
Replacements: 16 Thomas Acquier, 17 Goderdzi Shvelidze, 18 Arnaud Mela, 19 Sisa Koyamaibole, 20 Benjamin Neveu, 21 Riaan Swanepoel, 22 Elia Radikedike, 23 Damien Jourdain

Date: Saturday, September 13
Venue: Stade Jean Dauger
Kick-off: 18.30 local (17.30 GMT)
Referee: Laurent Cardona
Assistant referees: Vincent Blasco Baque, Bruno Gabaldon

Oyonnax v Grenoble

Grenoble have been arguably the standout team in this early season, with impressive performances in narrow defeats on the road to Clermont and Montpellier before convincing home wins over Bordeaux-Bègles and La Rochelle.

In fact they stand alone as the only team to have picked up a bonus point in every game, but it seems that Fabrice Landreau is prepared take a chance on this trip to Oyonnax by resting a number of players.

As a result a few new faces will come in for the first time this season, including scrum-half James Hart and centre Geoffrey Messina.

That will give Oyonnax the chance to maintain their formidable home record, having already seen off Stade Français convincingly at Charles Mathon.

Last week they picked up a valuable bonus point away at Lyon in a feisty encounter which threatened to spill over in the corridors after the game.

But having calmed down from that, they will once again hope their Argentinian half-backs can control