Top 14 Preview: Round 13

Date published: January 30 2016

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The Top 14 returns this week with some intriguing fixtures including a clash between the current champions and the side they dethroned last season.

This time around Stade Français arrive in catastrophic position in the league, and it will take a remarkable turnaround for them to reach the play-offs.

Elsewhere Clermont will hope to put their European nightmare behind them when they host Montpellier, while the conquerors of the Marcel Michelin, Bordeaux-Bègles, travel to Castres.

Agen host Grenoble in a must-win clash, and leaders Racing 92 welcome Oyonnax.

Finally Toulouse, fresh from back-to-back European losses, host Pau for the first time in over a decade.

Fixtures

Friday

Brive 28-6 La Rochelle

Saturday

Clermont v Montpellier
Racing 92 v Oyonnax
Castres v Bordeaux-Bègles
Agen v Grenoble
Toulouse v Pau

Sunday

Toulon v Stade Français


Clermont v Montpellier
Stade Marcel Michelin, Clermont

The once impenetrable fortress of the Marcel Michelin has been breached with alarming regularity, eventually resulting in Clermont's elimination from Europe last weekend.

While Morgan Parra's quick tap has been the focus of much attention, the bigger concern is how easily Clermont let a 14-0 lead slip to fail to even pick up a bonus point.

President Eric de Cromières was clearly not happy, while Jamie Cudmore's inflammatory tweet will have fanned the flames.

Next up is another home game, this time against Montpellier, and in the same fixture last season it was the boot of François Trinh-Duc which gave the visitors a surprise victory.

The France fly-half made his return to action last weekend, producing one sublime pass after coming off the bench against Harlequins.

Not yet ready for an international recall, the Montpellier star will be keen to show Guy Novès he is back to full fitness.

Last year's result: Montpellier won 21-20
Kick-off: 14:45 local (13:45 GMT)
Referee: Salem Attalah


Racing 92 v Oyonnax
Stade Yves du Manoir, Colombes

Arguably France's most impressive side in Europe, Racing were beaten in the Champions Cup for the first time last week when they sent a weakened side to Glasgow.

A number of rested players should return this week for the visit of Oyonnax, and Racing will be after revenge.

Oyonnax caused a huge upset last season with victory in this game, although the star that day, Benjamin Urdapilleta, has since moved on.

While a win over Stade Français at the end of 2015 gave them some hope of survival, they are still deep in the mire six points from safety.

Home form is more likely to be the deciding factor in whether they can beat the drop, but a repeat of last year's result would certainly be very welcome.

Last year's result: Oyonnax won 21-17
Kick-off: 18:30 local (17:30 GMT)
Referee: Sébastien Minery


Castres v Bordeaux-Bègles
Stade Pierre Antoine, Castres

Two play-off chasing sides meet at Pierre Antoine on Saturday with visitors Bordeaux having the chance to really cement their place in the top six.

Matches between these two at Castres have always been tight since Bordeaux's return to the top flight, but Raphael Ibanez's side haven't managed a win there yet.

They showed just how dangerous they can be last week though against Clermont, and their increased depth is evident with the number of options at key positions like scrum-half and in the back row.

Baptiste Serin was rewarded for his fine form with a France call-up this week, and although he was later released, it shows that the 21-year-old remains in Novès' thoughts.

As for Castres, a three-week rest for Europe has given them a chance to recharge their batteries, and they could actually overtake Bordeaux with a big win in this one.

Going under the radar somewhat, they have overcome a shaky period to get right back in play-off contention.

Last year's result: Castres won 22-20
Kick-off: 18:30 local (17:30 GMT)
Referee: Maxime Chalon


Agen v Grenoble
Stade Armandie, Agen

Ten points from safety, Agen already seem doomed, but they can give themselves a chance with victory over Grenoble.

The two teams must be sick of the sight of each other, as they go head to head for the fourth time already this season.

Grenoble have won the first three games, scoring at least 38 points in each match. While it's always dangerous to read much into Challenge Cup results, only Oyonnax have conceded more points than Agen this season.

Agen haven't won in the league since the end of October but it was a week earlier that Grenoble picked up their last points on the road. One of those records will have to go on Saturday.

Previous result: Agen won 32-26 in 2012 in Pro D2
Kick-off: 18:30 local (17:30 GMT)
Referee: Cyril Lafon


Toulouse v Pau
Stade Ernest Wallon, Toulouse

A disastrous European campaign came to and end with a home loss for Toulouse against Saracens, but in the league they have been a lot better.

Narrowly beaten at Stade Français last time out in a rather controversial affair, Toulouse will expect much better at home to Pau.

Ugo Mola's first defeat as Toulouse coach came at the hands of Simon Mannix's side, but Toulouse have not lost at home in the league all season.

The good form of a number of Toulouse players was rewarded with international call-ups, and many of the key players are now youngsters as the team transitions to a new generation.

For Pau, the arrival of Conrad Smith and Colin Slade has done them good with seven points from their last three games, which included clashes against Toulon and Racing.

Anything here would be a bonus point, but they look to be on the right track to beat the drop.

Previous result: Toulouse won 52-9 in 2005
Kick-off: 20:45 local (19:45 GMT)
Referee: Adrien Descottes


Toulon v Stade Français
Stade Félix Mayol, Toulon

Last season Mayol was left stunned by Stade Français' comeback victory, one of three the Parisians managed against Toulon.

This year Toulon already have a win at Jean Bouin under their belts, and can keep pace at the top by completing the double this weekend.

Bernard Laporte's team are not entirely convincing, with the injury-enforced absence of Matt Giteau a real issue.

Quade Cooper has been retained this week as a result, despite wanting to head to the Wellington Sevens, and the pressure will be on him.

Stade's late win over Toulouse last time out at least gave them some hope of getting back in the play-off race, but with ten points to make up and so many other teams ahead of them, it will take quite a run for Stade to get there.

Their better bet may be going for it in Europe, where they have reached the quarter-finals, but for now they will have to negotiate a very tricky Six Nations period.

Last year's result: Stade won 28-24
Kick-off: 16:15 local (15:15 GMT)
Referee: Jérôme Garcès

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