Top 14 Preview: Sunday

Date published: December 31 2015

In France 2016 kicks off with a couple of teams in desperate need of points and the weekend ends with the champions against the leaders.

Getting us underway on Saturday are bottom side Agen, who host a reeling Clermont, before fellow strugglers Oyonnax travel to Grenoble.

La Rochelle will try to vent their anger at last week's controversial loss to Pau when they welcome Castres, then in the game of the day Racing 92 host in-form Bordeaux.

The final match on Saturday sees Montpellier travel to Brive, while on Sunday Ma'a Nonu could face Conrad Smith when Toulon take on Pau.

Finally Stade Français will try to get over their poor recent form, but will need to beat leaders Toulouse to do so.


Agen 16-33 Clermont
La Rochelle 25-21 Castres
Grenoble 42-13 Oyonnax
Racing 92 23-18 Bordeaux-Bègles
Brive 19-18 Montpellier


Toulon v Pau
Stade Français v Toulouse

Agen v Clermont
Stade Armandie, Agen

There was a time when Clermont never lost at home, but twice this season they have been beaten at the Stade Marcel Michelin by two title rivals.

Stade Français showed last season that finishing in the top two isn't necessarily a prerequisite for winning the Bouclier de Brennus, but there are real concerns about how les Jaunards have been bullied in the contact area by both Racing and Toulon.

A trip to Agen will give them a chance to put things right, with the bottom side in the league looking very much the relegation favourites. Well-beaten at Montpellier last time out, they are in real danger of getting cut adrift at the bottom, although if they were to win at home this weekend, they could close the gap with relegation rivals playing on the road.

For Clermont a couple of players will be eager to prove a point to Guy Novès before he announces his second France squad. Alexandre Lapandry and Camille Gérondeau have both started the season well and could feature, while Paul Jedrasiak will want to show why he has been included already.

The teams:

Agen: 15 Benoit Sicart, 14 Filipo Nakosi, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Eroni vasiteri Narumasa, 11 George Tilsley, 10 Burton Francis, 9 Alexi Bales, 8 Marc Baget rabarou, 7 Luke john Hamilton, 6 Antoine Erbani, 5 William Demotte, 4 Apisalome Ratuniyarawa, 3 David Ryan, 2 Jalil Narjissi, 1 Viliamu Afatia.
Replacements: 16 Marc Barthomeuf, 17 Bernard N nomo, 18 Jean baptiste Roidot, 19 Sione Tau, 20 Clement Darbo, 21 Francois Bouvier, 22 Vincent Roux, 23 Quentin Bethune.

Clermont: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 Noa Nakaitaci, 13 Albert Vulivuli, 12 Jonathan Davies, 11 Alivereti Raka, 10 Patricio Fernandez Fiant, 9 Ludovic Radosavljevic, 8 Camille Gerondeau, 7 Judicael Cancoriet, 6 Julien Bardy, 5 Paul Jedrasiak, 4 Loic Jacquet, 3 Daniel Kotze, 2 John Ulugia, 1 Thomas Domingo.
Replacements: 16 Marthinus van der Westhuizen, 17 Raphael Chaume, 18 Arthur Iturria, 19 Peceli Yato, 20 Enzo Sanga, 21 Camille Lopez, 22 Scott Spedding, 23 Michael Simutoga.

Previous result: Clermont won 18-11 in 2012
Kick-off: 14:30 local (13:30 GMT)
Referee: Romain Poite

La Rochelle v Castres
Stade Marcel Deflandre, La Rochelle

A hugely controversial disallowed try cost La Rochelle a first away win of the season last time out against Pau but on home soil they have been much more convincing.

Since losing on the opening day to Clermont, they are unbeaten at Marcel Deflandre, while Castres have only one road win to their name.

Still, Castres were comfortable winners at home to Brive last time out, and in Julien Caminati, a medical joker who arrived from Toulon after the World Cup, they look to have picked up a gem.

As with every game this weekend there will be players aiming to catch the eye of Novès, although Rory Kockott's hopes appear slim after being jettisoned in a position of real strength for France.

La Rochelle's Kevin Gourdon, on the other hand, looks a real contender for a place in the back row, and could join teammate Uini Atonio in the French plans.

The teams:

La Rochelle: 15 Kini Murimurivalu, 14 Gabriel Lacroix, 13 Pierre Aguillon, 12 Levani Botia, 11 Malietoa seuli Hingano, 10 Zack Holmes, 9 Enrico Januarie, 8 Jone Qovu, 7 Kevin Gourdon, 6 Romain Sazy, 5 Romana Graham, 4 Jason Eaton, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Maxime Gau, 1 Vincent Pelo. 
Replacements: 16 Hikairo Forbes, 17 Mike Corbel, 18 Leandro Cedaro, 19 Zeno Kieft, 20 Afaesetiti Amosa, 21 Julien Audy, 22 Eliott Roudil, 23 Lekso Kaulashvili.

Castres: 15 Julien Caminati, 14 David Smith, 13 Thomas Combezou, 12 Florian Vialelle, 11 Romain Martial, 10 Julien Dumora, 9 Rory Kockott, 8 Alex Tulou, 7 Alexandre Bias, 6 Piula Faasalele, 5 Rodrigo Capo Ortega, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Karena Wihongi, 2 Brice Mach, 1 Antoine Tichit. 
Replacements: 16 Marc Antoine Rallier, 17 Mihaita Lazar, 18 Christophe Samson, 19 John Beattie, 20 Julien Seron, 21 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 22 Romain Cabannes, 23 Lucas Martinez.

Last year's result: La Rochelle won 41-16
Kick-off: 15:00 local (14:00 GMT)
Referee: Sébastien Minery

Grenoble v Oyonnax
Stade des Alpes, Grenoble

A late try saved face at Bordeaux-Bègles, but the 25-19 final scoreline flattered Grenoble somewhat.

Already in danger of being ruled out of a play-off chase, they desperately need a win against their closest geographical rivals, Oyonnax.

Johann Authier's team produced their best performance of the season so far to comfortably see off Stade Français last time out, and will need more of the same on the road.

Their away form has been dreadful, with no points from five games, and they haven't even managed a try on their travels since early September.

They are four points from safety as it stands, but a second straight victory would get them right back in contention.

The teams:

Grenoble: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Maritino Marcus William Nemani, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Nigel Hunt, 11 Lucas Dupont, 10 Jonathan Wisniewski, 9 Charl Mcleod, 8 Rory Grice, 7 Fabien Alexandre, 6 Steven Miimetua Setephano, 5 Hendrik Roodt, 4 Benjamin Hand, 3 Dayna Edwards, 2 Arnaud Heguy, 1 Fabien Barcella. 
Replacements: 16 Loick Jammes, 17 Faka anaua ki alisona Taumalolo, 18 Peter Kimlin, 19 Mahamadou Diaby, 20 Lilian Saseras, 21 Gilles Bosch, 22 Xavier Mignot, 23 Pieter rossouw De klerk,

Oyonnax: 15 Florian Denos. 14 Silvere Tian, 13 Guillaume Bousses, 12 Jimmy Yobo, 11 Dug Codjo, 10 Regis Lespinas, 9 Fabien Cibray, 8 Viliami Ma'afu, 7 Olivier Missoup, 6 Valentin Ursache, 5 Fabrice Metz, 4 George Robson, 3 Antoine Guillamon, 2 Jeremie Maurouard, 1 Soane Tonga'uiha. 
Replacements: 16 Thomas Bordes, 17 Laurent Delboulbes, 18 Mickael De Marco, 19 Pedrie Wannenburg, 20 Maurie Faasavalu, 21 Julien Blanc, 22 Nick Robinson, 23 Marc Clerc.

Last year's result: Grenoble won 33-19
Kick-off: 15:00 local (14:00 GMT)
Referee: Jérôme Garcès

Racing 92 v Bordeaux-Bègles
Stade Yves du Manoir, Colombes

There's no hiding it anymore, with wins at Toulon and Clermont, Racing are very much contenders to win it all this year.

With a seemingly weakened team, they ground out a win at the Marcel Michelin last weekend, and can take top spot, at least temporarily with a home win over Bordeaux.

Led by Maxime Machenaud, deservedly recalled to France, they have depth to rival every contender in the Top 14 except Toulon, and are currently relatively unscathed in terms of injuries.

Bordeaux-Bègles also look to be rounding into form, having followed up a win over the Ospreys with a comfortable win against Grenoble.

Adam Ashley-Cooper appears to be settling in nicely, while Sofiane Guitoune is in outstanding form, even if it wasn't enough to earn a France spot.

Loosehead Jefferson Poirot made it though, and will face a tough examination from a very good Racing pack on Saturday.

In the opposing front row, Camille Chat has been tipped to make Novès' second squad, and on form this season, it's hard to disagree.

The teams:

Racing 92: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Juan Imhoff, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 Alexandre Dumoulin, 11 Marc Andreu, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Antonie Claassen, 7 Yannick Nyanga, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Francois van der Merwe, 4 Manuel Carizza, 3 Benajmin Tameifuna, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Eddy Ben Arous. 
Replacements: 16 Virgile Lacombe, 17 Julien Brugnaut, 18 Juandre Kruger, 19 Chris Masoe, 20 Maxime Machenaud, 21 Johan Goosen, 22 Henry Chavancy, 23 Luc Ducalcon.

Bordeaux-Bègles: Bordeaux Bègles: 15 Nans Ducuing, 14 Sofiane Guitoune, 13 Felix Le bourhis, 12 Julien Rey, 11 Blair Connor, 10 Simon Hickey, 9 Baptiste Serin, 8 Marco Tauleigne, 7 Hugh Chalmers, 6 Loann Goujon, 5 Jandre Marais, 4 Julien Ledevedec, 3 Francisco Gomez Kodela, 2 Benat Auzqui, 1 Steven Kitshoff. 
Replacements: 16 Wayne Avei, 17 Jefferson Poirot, 18 Berend Botha, 19 Louis benoit Madaule, 20 Yann Lesgourgues, 21 Lionel Beauxis, 22 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 23 Sekope Kepu.

Last year's result: Racing won 12-9
Kick-off: 16:30 local (15:30 GMT)
Referee: Thomas Charabas

Brive v Montpellier
Stade Amédée Domenech, Brive

A real play-off battle, Brive's loss to Castres last time out saw them drop out of the top six but they could get back their with a win over sixth-placed Montpellier.

Flying under the radar a little, Jake White's team were impressive against Agen last time out, and have the power up front and speed out wide to be a problem for anyone.

The South African coach had spoken of scrum-half Benoit Paillaugue's international chances, while Marvin O'Connor is another who might have been disappointed to miss out on the first squad.

It was better news for Benjamin Fall and François Trinh-Duc though, and despite the form of Demetri Catrakilis, White will be hoping to get his fly-half back soon.

Without him they are playing well though, and if Bismarck du Plessis can continue his scoring run, an away win on the road would really boost their play-off hopes.

The teams:

Brive: 15 Matthieu Ugalde, 14 Guillaume Namy, 13 Arnaud Mignardi, 12 Poutasi Luafutu, 11 Benito Masilevu, 10 Nicolas Bezy, 9 Teddy Iribaren, 8 Sisa Koyamaibole, 7 Dominiko Waqaniburotu, 6 Petrus Hauman, 5 Arnaud Mela, 4 Peet Marais, 3 Giorgi Jgenti, 2 Guillaume Ribes, 1 Karlen Asieshvili. 
Replacements: 16 Francois Da ros, 17 Lucas Pointud, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Fabien Sanconnie, 20 William Whetton, 21 Jean baptiste Pejoine, 22 Thomas Laranjeira, 23 Damien Jourdain.

Montpellier: 15 Jesse Mogg. 14 Julien Malzieu, 13 Anthony Tuitavake, 12 Ben Lucas, 11 Marvin O Connor, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Benoit Paillaugue, 8 Ben Mowen, 7 Willem Liebenberg, 6 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 5 Paul Willemse, 4 Robins Tchale watchou, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Mikheil Nariashvili. 
Replacements: 16 Charles Geli, 17Jamie Mackintosh, 18 Thibaut Privat, 19 Antoine Battut, 20 Akapusi Qera, 21 Nicholas White, 22 Robert Ebersohn, 23 Davit Kubriashvili.

Last year's result: Brive won 15-10
Kick-off: 20:45 local (19:45 GMT)
Referee: Pascal Gauzère

Toulon v Pau
Stade Félix Mayol, Toulon

Two tough games against Leinster appeared to take it out of Toulon and they were well-beaten at Toulouse last time out.

Most concerning was the performance of Tom Taylor, the former All Black who struggled both from the kicking tee and in defence.

It's two other, rather more well-known All Blacks who provide the main attraction this weekend with Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith set to face off.

The most capped centre pairing of all time find themselves in very different situations, although Pau's close win over La Rochelle last week eased their relegation fears.

At club level there is no question that Smith has always been the more consistent and effective. After his gaffe last week that gave Gaël Fickou the opening try against Toulouse, Nonu will be keen to prove that he can bring his international form onto the club stage.

The teams:

Toulon: 15 Tom Taylor, 14 James O'Connor, 13 Maxime Mermoz, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Sébastien Tillous-Borde, 8 Steffon Armitage, 7 Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe, 6 Mamuka Gorgodze, 5 Konstantin Mikautadze, 4 Jocelino Suta, 3 Levin Chilachava, 2 Guihelm Guirado, 1 Xavier Chiocci 
Replacements: 16 Anthony Etrillard, 17 Alexandre Menini, 18 Thibault Lasalle, 19 Charles Ollivon, 20 Mathieu Bastareaud, 21 Bryan Habana, 22 Eric Escande, 23 Matt Stevens

Pau: 15 Mathieu Acebes, 14 Sireli Bobo, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Jale Vatubua, 11 Watisoni Votu, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Thibault Daubagna, 8 James Coughlan, 7 Paddy Butler, 6 Sean Dougall, 5 Daniel Ramsay, 4 Julien Pierre, 3 Chris King, 2 Quentin Lespiaucq, 1 Julien Jacquot
Replacements: 16 Thomas Bianchin, 17 Jérémy Hurou, 18 Claude Dry, 19 Jovili Domolailai, 20 Thierry Lacrampe, 21 Brandon Fajardo, 22 Julien Fumat, 23 Giorgi Natsharashvili

Previous result: Toulon won 35-10 in Pro D2 in 2007
Kick-off: 17:45 local (16:45 GMT)
Referee: Cyril Lafon

Stade Français v Toulouse
Stade Jean Bouin, Paris

When France brought in Jeff Dubois as backs coach after the World Cup it was seen by most as a shrewd acquisition.

The man who had masterminded the Stade Français backline that surprisingly won the Brennus had overseen the development of a number of fine young backs.

Instead of replacing him, Stade chose to give head coach Gonzalo Quesada more hands on work looking after the backs.

So far that move doesn't appear to have paid off, with Stade languishing just outside the bottom two, and almost dead and buried in terms of play-off hopes.

Just as Stade did a few years ago, Toulouse have also decided to place their faith in youth, and in the league at least, it appears to be paying off.

Sébastien Bézy and Yacouba Camara were both rewarded with call-ups for France, while the likes of Julien Marchand, Cyril Baille and Dorian Aldegheri are also being used frequently.

The final uncapped player called up by Novès was Jonathan Danty, Stade's powerful centre who has been excelling for over a season now.

However, while he had a great season last year, he will be keen to put right his performance against Toulouse, where his sending off for a punch on Vincent Clerc cost his team very dear.

The teams:

Stade Français: 15 Hugo Bonneval, 14 Jérémy Sinzelle, 13 Paul Williams, 12 Jonathan Danty, 11 Djibril Camara, 10 Jules Plisson, 9 Will Genia, 8 Sergio Parisse, 7 Jono Ross, 6 Antoine Burban, 5 Pascal Papé, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Paul Alo-Emile, 2 Laurent Sempere, 1 Heinke van der Merwe
Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Emmanuel Fresina, 18 Paul Gabrillagues, 19 Mathieu Ugena, 20 Julien Dupuy, 21 Morné Steyn, 22 Waisale Nayacalevu, 23 Rabah Slimani

Toulouse: 15 Maxime Médard, 14 Vincent Clerc, 13 Gaël Fickou, 12 Toby Flood, 11 Alexis Palisson, 10 Jean-Marc Doussain, 9 Nicolas Bézy, 8 Imanol Harinordoquy, 7 Louis Picamoles, 6 Thierry Dusautoir, 5 Patricio Albacete, 4 Yoann Maestri, 3 Census Johnston, 2 Christopher Tolofua, 1 Vasil Kakovin
Replacements: 16 Julien Marchand, 17 Cyril Baille, 18 Dorian Aldegheri, 19 Joe Tekori, 20 Yacouba Camara, 21 Gillian Galan, 22 Florian Fritz, 23 Clément Poitrenaud

Last year's result: Toulouse won 21-12
Kick-off: 21:00 local (20:00 GMT)
Referee: Laurent Cardona