Top 14 Preview: Round 15

Date published: February 19 2016

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With a week off from the Six Nations, the Top 14 returns and Guy Novès will be watching on nervously as he hopes to avoid any serious injuries ahead of a trip to Cardiff.

After Friday night’s opener between Stade Français and Brive, a Clermont team in crisis travel to Castres.

Bordeaux-Bègles will expect to build on last week’s win over Toulon at home to bottom side Agen, while Montpellier will fancy their chances at home to Pau.

Grenoble welcome Racing 92 to the Stade des Alpes before Toulouse travel to La Rochelle on Saturday evening.

Finally Oyonnax host Toulon on Sunday as they continue their battle for survival.

Fixtures

Friday

Stade Français v Brive

Saturday

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

Sunday

Oyonnax v Toulon


Castres v Clermont
Stade Pierre Antoine, Castres

Clermont arrive in Castres on the back of three straight home defeats in the league, as well as being knocked out of Europe in the pool stages.

It’s arguably the worst run they have had in well over five years, even if they remain in the play-off places.

Victory at Pierre Antoine would get them right back in contention for an automatic semi-final spot, but with question marks over the fitness of a number of players, it would be a surprise to see them win at a ground where they have struggled historically.

Castres are starting to come into some form, and sit just three points off the top six at the midway point in the season.

With very few players absent on international duty, they have a squad which could take advantage of the Six Nations period to really push for a play-off spot.

Last year’s result: Castres won 31-10
Kick-off: 14:45 local (13:45 GMT)
Referee: Mathieu Raynal


Bordeaux-Bègles v Agen
Stade Chaban Delmas, Bordeaux

Bordeaux made a fine start to life in the Matmut Stadium last time out and will go into a home tie with Agen favourites to pick up all five points.

The recent signing of Luke Jones was more proof that Bordeaux are one of the best teams in the Top 14 in terms of recruitment, and the depth they are building is impressive.

Loosehead Jefferson Poirot is also set for a second straight start with France while Loann Goujon impressed off the bench against Ireland.

Flanker Louis-Benoit Madaule could be the next to get a shot after a great all-round display against Toulon, while both young French scrum-halves have impressed this year.

By contrast, Agen seem doomed with just two wins to their name all season. Contract extensions for Antoine Erbani and Mathieu Lamoulie are good news for the future, but the likelihood is they will be plying their trade in Pro D2 next season.

Previous result: Bordeaux won 48-17 in 2013
Kick-off: 18:30 local (17:30 GMT)
Referee: Cedric Marchat


Montpellier v Pau
Altrad Stadium, Montpellier

Just three points separate fourth and seventh, but as it stands Montpellier are the team on the outside looking in.

While that is the case, recent form would point to Jake White’s team being a side on the rise, and a big win over Pau could well send them back into the top six.

Fly-half François Trinh-Duc was rewarded this week for his return to fitness with a call-up to the French side and he will be hoping that his terrible injury luck is finally behind him.

Elsewhere the large overseas contingent means that Montpellier shouldn’t be too affected by international call-ups in the coming weeks, so like Castres they could soon find themselves closing the gap on the top of the table.

For Pau this would appear to be a match where they have nothing to lose. Few people would expect them to get anything from the game but any sort of points would be a major bonus.

With Oyonnax at home on Sunday, Pau will be looking to stretch that six-point gap between them and the bottom two.

Previous result: Montpellier won 41-36 in 2006
Kick-off: 18:30 local (17:30 GMT)
Referee: Thomas Charabas


Grenoble v Racing 92
Stade des Alpes, Grenoble

After a run of four straight losses, Grenoble have picked up back-to-back wins including a thrilling success at Agen last time out.

Table toppers Racing should provide stiffer opposition even if a number of their players have been involved in Six Nations action.

Luke Charteris will be absent while some of the French internationals maybe a little tired, but Henry Chavancy will be keen to prove a point.

The Racing centre has been a standout in his position this season, but has not yet convinced the French coaches to give him a shot, admittedly in a position where there is plenty of competition.

While it might not be enough to earn him a shot in this year’s Six Nations, he’ll be hoping to keep knocking at the door of the selectors.

Meanwhile Grenoble are one of just four teams without a player in the French squad but as it stands they might have a bit longer to wait to get one called up.

Last year’s result: Grenoble won 27-25
Kick-off: 18:30 local (17:30 GMT)
Referee: Laurent Cardona


La Rochelle v Toulouse
Stade Marcel Deflandre, La Rochelle

La Rochelle’s survival last season kicked off with a stunning home win over Toulouse, and they will be hoping to repeat the feat against the side who are currently second in the table.

Toulouse hammered Pau last time out, but have not won away from home since October, and will be aware of how tough it is to win at Marcel Deflandre.

They will also have to cope with a number of players returning from international duty, with six players in the current 31-man France squad.

That doesn’t include Louis Picamoles, who was injured in the opening win over Italy, while Gaël Fickou has been absent for personal reasons.

Ugo Mola isn’t the only coach in that position though, as La Rochelle have had three players in the French camp, including both props Vincent Pelo and Uini Atonio.

The pair struggled at Brive last time out, but could both feature in Wales next week, so will want to prove a point if picked, while Kevin Gourdon has just dropped out of the French squad after training for the first two weeks of the Championship.

Last year’s result: La Rochelle won 37-25
Kick-off: 20:45 local (19:45 GMT)
Referee: Tual Trainini


Oyonnax v Toulon
Stade Charles Mathon, Oyonnax

Things are starting to look pretty grim for Oyonnax, and it will be a lot trickier if they go down at home to Toulon this weekend.

They were beaten by a late Baptiste Serin penalty last Sunday but could go top with a win on the road depending on the results of Racing and Toulouse.

France skipper Guilhem Guirado will be on the bench for Toulon, showing once more how disruptive the Top 14 is with les Bleus playing in Cardiff on the following Friday.

Still, Guirado, Maxime Mermoz and Xavier Chiocci are the only players on Test duty, so Toulon shouldn’t have been too badly affected in recent weeks.

Oyonnax don’t have many problems on that front either but they’ve won just one of their last six league matches, and could be ten points off safety by the time they kick off if results go against them on Saturday.

That is unlikely but with a trip to Clermont next up, things don’t get any easier for the Oyomen.

Last year’s result: Toulon won 21-18
Kick-off: 16:15 local (15:15 GMT)
Referee: Pascal Gauzère

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