The row over next season's European Cup will take backstage as the Top 14 offers up a huge clash between Toulon and Clermont.
The row over next season's European Cup will take backstage in France this weekend as the Top 14 offers up a mouth-watering clash between Toulon and Clermont.
Toulon pipped Clermont to the European crown by a point last season and while controversy surrounding of an Anglo-French split from the tournament rumbles on, it is back to the rough and tumble of league action, the bread-and-butter entertainment of French club rugby.
Toulon will have a point to prove, having lost 25-22 last weekend to newly-promoted Oyonnax, coach Bernard Laporte laying out in no uncertain terms his feelings after the match.
“It's a match we could have won by 30 points but we lost it,” Laporte told AFP, having seen his star-studded outfit fall prey to a last-gasp drop goal by Argentina fly-half Benjamin Urdallipeta.
“Some players didn't do what they had to do.”
The scalp was not Oyonnax's first of the season, having already beaten Clermont and defending Top 14 champions Castres. But the success of the small club from eastern France or the fact that Saturday's match was against Clermont were not things that interested Laporte.
The defeat involved “players I love, players I chose with president (Mourad) Boudjellal”, said the former France coach.
“We spoke together and they reassured me that they were committed.”
Turning to the weekend, Laporte added: “Defeats are always forbidden! But the opponents count for little, I don't care that it's Clermont.
“They'll do what they've got to do and we, if only we do what we have to do… Clermont are a very good team – we didn't learn that this morning.”
Clermont sit second in the standings, one point ahead of Toulon, and welcome back France centre Aurelien Rougerie for the game at the Allianz Riviera stadium in Nice, although he is set to start on the wing.
Rougerie has been out all season with a foot injury, but will face a baptism of fire against the likes of human wrecking ball Mathieu Bastareaud at the 35,000-capacity stadium.
“It's good to get thrown into the deep end,” smiled Rougerie.
Toulon are resting former England pop Andrew Sheridan, wing Rudi and stalwart loose forward Joe van Niekerk. FrÃ©dÃ©ric Michalak is still not fit to play, but is hopeful for next week's start to the European season.
Scrum-half SÃ©bastien Tillous-Borde returns to the squad having served a suspension.
Napolioni Nalaga is an injury absentee for Clermont due to a calf problem while loose forward Julien Bardy is doubtful.
Team news to follow..
Results last season: Toulon 26-26 Clermont; Clermont 24 – 21 Toulon; Clermont 15 – 16 Toulon (Heineken Cup)
Date: Saturday, October 4
Venue: Allianz Riviera, Nice
Kick-off: 15.00 local (13.00 GMT)
Referee: JÃ©rÃ´me Garces