Top 14 Preview: Round 12

Date published: November 22 2013

Just one point separates the leading five clubs in the Top 14 with Racing visiting Clermont this weekend hoping to keep up.

Just one point separates the leading five clubs in the Top 14 with Racing visiting Clermont this weekend hoping to keep up.

In fact, just five points cover the top ten sides as France's big guns must do without their current internationals this weekend.

Toulouse have welcomed back a few French representatives though and will expect a big win over Oyonnax while defending champions Castres face a tough trip to Montpellier.


Friday, November 22
Toulon v Perpignan

Saturday, November 23
Bayonne v Grenoble
Bordeaux-Bègles v Stade Français
Brive v Biarritz
Montpellier v Castres
Toulouse v Oyonnax
Clermont v Racing Métro 92


Aviron Bayonnais v FC Grenoble
Stade Jean Dauger, Bayonne

If past results are anything to go by, 12th-placed Bayonne will welcome Grenoble to the Basque country with open arms: 37-6 last October in the Challenge Cup, 31-24 last season and 41-12 in 2005.

Bayonne are boosted by the return of star wing Marvin O'Connor while young loose forward Charles Ollivon is set to make his professional debut due to the absence of Opeti Fonua, who is on international duty with Tonga.

Former Wallaby forward Peter Kimlin is set to make his first appearance for Grenoble, who also welcome back sharpshooting kicker Valentin Courrent.

Result last season: Bayonne 31-24 Grenoble
Prediction: Home win. Bayonne by 12 points
Kick-off: 14.15 (13.15 GMT)
Referee: Cédric Marchat

Union Bordeaux-Bègles v Stade Français Paris
Stade Jacques Chaban-Delmas, Bordeaux

The one team in the top five playing away is Stade Français, who have the best record of anyone in the league with seven wins from their 11 matches, although with just three bonus points, they actually sit fifth.

They will be without 11 players retained by international teams for the trip to Bordeaux-Begles, where last season they lost 30-22.

Stade full-back Hugo Bonneval admitted they will have their work cut out.

“Of course the absentees will weigh on us. Those playing in international matches are the players above the norm, those who make a difference in the key moments,” he told Rugbyrama.

“Losing players like (Italy captain) Sergio (Parisse) or Pascal (Pape, the France lock) is tough. Most of our missing players are forwards. We're missing a loosehead, a tighthead, a lock, a number eight.

“Luckily we've got a great squad: to replace Sergio we have David Lyons, who's a Wallaby. To replace Pascal we have Gerhard Mostert, who's played for the Springboks.

“We've got a big squad.”

Result last season: Bordeaux-Bègles 30-22 Stade Français
Prediction: Home win. Bordeaux-Bègles by five points
Kick-off: 14.15 (13.15 GMT)
Referee: Salem Attalah

CA Brive-Corrèze v Biarritz Olympique
Stade Amédée-Domenech, Brive-la-Gaillarde

Just one point off the play-off places, Brive have had an impressive start to the season and will expect another positive result against stone-last Biarritz.

Brive are unbeaten at home, where their 34-0 thrashing of the reigning champions highlighted their credentials.

The Basque visitors will however been eager to grab the opportunity to close the nine-point gap on Oyonnax, who are likely to get drilled in Toulouse.

Biarrritz are without talisman Dimitir Yachvili, who has a knee injury.

Previous result: Brive 32 – 7 Biarritz (2011)
Prediction: Home win. Brive by ten points
Kick-off: 14.15 (13.15 GMT)
Referee: Patrick Pechambert

Montpellier Hérault Rugby v Castres Olympique
Stade Yves Du Manoir, Montpellier

One of the big match-ups of the weekend sees high-flying Montpellier host the defending champions, with exciting All Black back Rene Ranger set to make his debut for the hosts.

New Zealander prop Paea Fa'anunu and South African centre Robert Ebersohn are also expected to make their first appearances for Montpellier, who start the weekend level on points with league-leaders Toulon.

The hosts are however set to be without skipper Fulgence Ouedraogo, who is sidelined until at least January due to a shoulder operation, which is a massive blow for Fabien Galthié's team.

Castres are currently tenth but only five points off the lead meaning a rare away win will put them right back amongst the pacesetters. They have won on four of their last nine visits to Montpol.

But CO are without a handful of key players including full-back Brice Dulin, fly-half Rémi Talès and prop Yannick Forestier, who are all on duty with the French national side.

Result last season: Montpellier 19-12 Castres
Prediction: Montpellier are very hard to beat at home. Montpellier by nine points
Kick-off: 14.15 (13.15 GMT)
Referee: Christophe Berdos

Stade Toulousain v US Oyonnax
Stade Ernest Wallon, Toulouse

No prizes for guessing who we are backing here.

Toulouse have scored 24 tries this season and conceded just 12 compared to Oyonnax who has scored 13 and conceded 23.

Toulouse are also boosted by the return of discarded French internationals Maxime Medard and Louis Picamoles, who will have a point to prove to Bleus coach Philippe Saint-André.

Oyonnax have been struck by a spate of injuries but welcome back fly-half Régis Lespinas

Previous result: n/a
Prediction: No mystery here. Toulouse to win with a bonus point
Kick-off: 14.15 (13.15 GMT)
Referee: Sébastien Minery

ASM Clermont Auvergne v Racing Métro 92
Stade Yves Du Manoir – Colombes (Paris)

Big-spending Racing Metro face a crucial test of their title aspirations when they travel to Top 14 favourites Clermont on Saturday.

Racing started the season well but three defeats in their last four league matches, including a humbling 9-6 reverse at basement-sitters Biarritz last time out, as well as a 22-20 defeat at home to Grenoble previously, have left the Parisians down in 10th in the standings.

With only the top six qualifying for the end of season play-offs, Racing seem to be off the pace but that's not the case in this Top 14 season, punctuated as it has been by remarkable competitiveness.

The top five teams are separated by just one point while there are only five points between the top 10.

Yet a defeat at the Stade Marcel-Michelin on Saturday, where Clermont have not been beaten in 65 matches, would start to see Racing lose touch with the front-runners.

Having beaten their rivals 13-9 at home in the European Cup in October, Racing could be forgiven for at least feeling a hint of confidence, not