Top 14 preview: Round 14

Date published: December 20 2013

Top 14 action returns this weekend after a two-week break for the Heineken Cup, with the big game seeing Toulon take on Montpellier.

Top 14 action returns this weekend after a two-week break for Heineken Cup commitments, with the big game seeing Toulon take on Montpellier.

Elsewhere Clermont take on Biarritz, Brive host Racing, Castres tackle Perpignan, Oyonnax play Bayonne and Toulouse face Bordeaux-Bègles


Friday, December 20
Stade Français 21-6 Grenoble

Saturday, December 21
Toulon v Montpellier
Brive vs Racing-Métro
Castres vs Perpignan
Clermont vs Biarritz
Oyonnax vs Bayonne
Toulouse v Bordeaux-Bègles


Toulon vs Montpellier
Stade Felix Mayol

Fourth meets sixth in the Top 14 in Saturday's early kick-off as Toulon play host to Montpellier in what is the mouth-watering game of the round at Stade Felix Mayol.

Montpellier are struggling for form but should welcome back outside centre Rene Ranger among others after resting a group of players against Leicester Tigers last Sunday.

Toulon meanwhile will start Jonny Wilkinson following his try-scoring cameo against Exeter Chiefs. He returns to a squad that is missing Frédéric Michalak while Bakkies Botha returns from a facial injury. Two blows to their cause however come in the shape of Chris Masoe being ruled out for the rest of the season with ruptured knee ligaments while wing Alexis Palisson is sidelined for between three to four weeks because of a shoulder injury.

Result last season: Toulon 51-6 Montpellier; Montpellier 25-32 Toulon
Prediction: Toulon by 5!
Kick-off: 14:55 local (13:55 GMT)
Referee: Sébastien Minery
Assistant referees: Thomas Charabas, Patrick Beuriot
Television match official: Vincent Azoulay

Brive vs Racing-Métro
Stade Amédée Domenech

While still not firing on all cylinders, Racing-Métro performed to a higher standard at Harlequins last week and will be confident of an away win at Stade Amédée Domenech.

Their star-studded side will of course need time to settle and form partnerships – Jamie Roberts also needing a few games to get back up to match speed – but there is the depth available to be in the mix come play-off time. That is if every player ha the correct mindset.

Brive meanwhile are sitting in eleventh position knowing that a home defeat could see them fall down another position due to Oyonnax and Bayonne meeting at Stade Charles Mathon. They enter the game on the back of a somewhat disappointing 20-9 win over Bucuresti.

Result last season: Did not play
Prediction: Racing-Métro by 3!
Kick-off: 18:30 local (17:30 GMT)
Referee: Cédric Marchat
Assistant referees: Salem Attalah, Laurent Breil
Television match official: Hervé Dubes

Castres vs Perpignan
Stade Pierre Antoine

Perpignan were much improved against Munster last week and will surely still be sore both physically and mentally from that last-minute defeat to JJ Hanrahan's try at Stade Aime Giral.

They are boosted by the return of Welsh pair, full-back James Hook and lock Luke Charteris, while prop Sona Taumalolo is back from suspension and should start the away fixture.

Perpignan are without the injured Camille Lopez, Richard Haughton, Romain Taofifenua, Sione Piukala, Wandile Mjekevu, Bertrand Guiry and Giorgi Jgenti at Stade Pierre Antoine.

Castres know that a home win is critical to keep them in the hunt for top spot in the regular-season and enter following a loss at the Ospreys. Their squad includes Rory Kockott, Remi Tales, Brice Dulin, Pedrie Wannenburg, Marcel Garvey, Max Evans and Antonie Claassen.

Result last season: Castres 38-36 Perpignan; Perpignan 20-21 Castres
Prediction: Castres by 7!
Kick-off: 18:30 local (17:30 GMT)
Referee: Pascal Gauzère
Assistant referees: Laurent Cardona, Thierry Le Grand
Television match official: Eric Gauzins

Clermont vs Biarritz
Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin

On form, Clermont should have little trouble in dispatching Biarritz at fortress Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin after watching recent fixtures in the Heineken and Challenge Cup.

Biarritz failed to inspire against Worcester Warriors last weekend as despite their victory there seemed a team lacking ideas who could get embarrassed by Clermont.

Clermont though are missing a long list of players such as Damien Chouly, Benjamin Kayser, Julien Bardy and Napolioni Nalaga are rested. They join Daniel Kotze (in South Africa), Morgan Parra, Alexandre Lapandry, Benson Stanley and Lee Byrne in missing out.

Result last season: Clermont 19-12 Biarritz; Biarritz 32-28 Clermont
Prediction: Clermont by 20!
Kick-off: 18:30 local (17:30 GMT)
Referee: Sébastien Clouté
Assistant referees: Cyril Lafon, Christophe Malterre
Television match official: Jean-Marie Piraveau

Oyonnax vs Bayonne
Stade Charles Mathon

Two teams locked on 25 points meet on Saturday as both Oyonnax and Bayonne look for a win that would propel them away from Biarritz at the basement of the standings. Of course, we are presuming BO don't do the improbable and break Clermont's fine home winning run.

Oyonnax this week confirmed the arrival of lock or number eight Nemia Soqeta from Taranaki, who will add some serious grunt to their forward pack going into 2014.

Bayonne meanwhile will be looking to shore up their defence which is the weakest in the league, coughing up 332 points in 14 fixtures. Definitely their New Year's resolution.

Result last season: Did not play
Prediction: Oyonnax by 5!
Kick-off: 18:30 local (17:30 GMT)
Referee: Romain Poite
Assistant referees: Mathieu Noirot, Bruno Gabaldon
Television match official: Gérard Borreani

Toulouse vs Bordeaux-Bègles
Stade Ernest Wallon

Transfer speculation has been the talk regarding Toulouse this week as the future of Leicester Tigers and England fly-half Toby Flood is now very much up in the air.

Guy Noves' side have emerged as favourites for his signature and with Lionel Beauxis leaving in the off-season, it seems the likely destination with talk loudening following the Tigers choosing not to use him against Saracens. Flood is one of many rested though.

Toulouse impressively got back to winning ways last week in the Heineken Cup against Connacht, after that shock loss at home the previous week. Bordeaux beat the Dragons.

Result last season: Toulouse 33-32 Bordeaux; Bordeaux 31-25 Toulouse
Prediction: Toulouse by 15!
Kick-off: 20:35 local (19:35 GMT)
Referee: Alexandre Ruiz
Assistant referees: Patrick Pechambert, Laurent Sclafer