Top 14 Preview: Round 17

Date published: January 27 2017

The Top 14 is back for a final weekend before the Six Nations, with a pair of European rematches and some crucial games at both ends of the table.

It all kicks off on Saturday in Toulon, where Mike Ford’s side will play host to high-flying La Rochelle.

Later in the afternoon Grenoble have a must-win game at home to Stade Français, while Toulouse entertain Pau.

Castres and Montpellier will go head-to-head for the fourth time this year, and on Saturday evening Lyon host Racing 92.

Then on Sunday Bayonne simply have to win at home to Brive before the second European rematch as Bordeaux take on Clermont.

Fixtures

Saturday

Toulon v La Rochelle
Grenoble v Stade Français
Toulouse v Pau
Castres v Montpellier
Lyon v Racing 92

Sunday

Bayonne v Brive
Bordeaux-Bègles v Clermont


Toulon v La Rochelle
Stade Félix Mayol, Toulon

It’s been a busy week at Toulon with a new deal for Bryan Habana and more notably the signing of Facundo Isa for three seasons – just as it seemed he had signed for Toulouse.

There is no question he will be a welcome addition, albeit in a position of strength, but for now against La Rochelle, they will have to make do with Duane Vermeulen – hardly the worst option.

La Rochelle are currently second in the league, but weren’t at their best in Europe as they failed to pick up a necessary bonus point against Bayonne and then struggled to victory over Treviso.

They will have to put that right quickly, but are without a pair of tightheads in Uini Atonio and Mohamed Boughanmi, both with France, as is Kevin Gourdon.

With three wins on their travels already, les Rochelais have some away form, but a win at the Mayol would be another step up entirely.

That is especially true with Toulon fifth and set to be without a number of players, including the recalled Mathieu Bastareaud, for the Six Nations period. They cannot afford to slip up.

The teams:

Toulon: 15 Pierre Bernard, 14 Josua Tuisova, 13 Maxime Mermoz, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 Jonathan Pélissié, 8 Samu Manoa, 7 Mamuka Gorgodze, 6 Juan Smith, 5 Romain Taofifenua, 4 Jocelino Suta, 3 Marcel Van der Merwe, 2 Jean Charles Orioli, 1 Laurent DelBoulbes
Replacements: 16 Anthony Ertillard, 17 Florian Fresia, 18 Juandré Kruger, 19 Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe, 20 Liam Gill, 21 Alesana Tuilagi, 22 Sebastien Tillous-Borde, 23 Levan Chilachava

La Rochelle: 15 Kini Murimurivalu, 14 Gabriel Lacroix, 13 Pierre Aguillon, 12 Levani Botia, 11 Vincent Rattez, 10 Zack Holmes, 9 Arthur Retière, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Jason Eaton, 6 Romain Sazy, 5 Jone Qovu Nailiko, 4 Mathieu Tanguy, 3 Lekso Kaulashvili, 2 Hikairo Forbes, 1 Mike Corbel
Replacements: 16 Jérémie Maurouard, 17 Dany Priso, 18 Leandro Cedaro, 19 Afaesetiti Amosa, 20 Alexis Bales, 21 Steeve Barry, 22 Brock James, 23 David Feao

Last year’s result: Toulon won 45-24
Kick-off: 14:45 local (13:45 GMT)
Referee: Alexandre Ruiz


Grenoble v Stade Français
Stade des Alpes, Grenoble

Grenoble have extended the contracts of a few players with a view to next season – Gio Aplon being one of them – and it appears to be the first step in preparation for relegation.

Nine points behind Lyon, having played a game more, the great escape looks a long shot, and will need a win over Stade Français this weekend.

Stade’s home defeat to Toulouse last time out in the league may have put paid to their play-off hopes and they were dealt a further blow with Raphaël Lakafia’s injury this week.

Still, Jules Plisson is available and with a point to prove, and has looked to be in better form in recent weeks.

He will need to be at his best if Stade are to win and get back in the hunt for the top six.

The teams:

Grenoble: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Xavier Mignot, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Fabrice Estebanez, 11 Lucas Dupont, 10 Jonathan Wisniewski, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Rory Grice, 7 Fabien Alexandre, 6 Peter Kimlin, 5 Aly Muldowney, 4 Hendrik Roodt, 3 Dayna Edwards, 2 Arnaud Heguy, 1 Denis Coulson
Replacements: 16 Loïck Jammes, 17 Dylan Jacquot, 18 Mathias Marie, 19 Mahamadou Diaby, 20 Lilian Saseras, 21 David Mélé, 22 Armand Batlle, 23 Jarrod Firth

Stade Francais: 15 Hugo Bonneval, 14 Julien Arias, 13 Waisea Nayacalevu, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Jérémy Sinzelle, 10 Jules Plisson, 9 Will Genia, 8 Sergio Parisse, 7 Jono Ross, 6 Willem Alberts, 5 Paul Gabrillagues, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Giorgi Melikidze, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Zurabi Zhvania
Replacements: 16 Aled de Malmanche, 17 Jean-Baptiste de Clercq, 18 Pascal Papé, 19 Sylvain Nicolas, 20 Clement Daguin, 21 Morné Steyn, 22 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 23 Entienne Swanepoel

Last year’s result: Stade won 21-19
Kick-off: 18:30 local (17:30 GMT)
Referee: Romain Poite


Toulouse v Pau
Stade Ernest Wallon, Toulouse

Having won three straight games in the league, Pau are one of the form sides in the Top 14, and will be looking to extend that run in Toulouse.

Their record at Ernest Wallon is not a good one, but they take on a Toulouse team without a host of internationals, including first choice centre pairing Gaël Fickou and Yann David and fly-half Jean-Marc Doussain.

Ugo Mola’s men sit fourth as it stands, and have lost just once at home all season. Their hard-fought win over Connacht eased some pressure with a European quarter-final for the first time in three years, but there is still work to do in the league.

They will also be dealing with the aforementioned Isa blow, but with a win Toulouse could cement their place in the top six.

The teams:

Toulouse: 15 Maxime Médard, 14 Semi Kunatani, 13 Paul Perez, 12 Florian Fritz, 11 Arthur Bonneval, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Samuel Marques, 8 Gillian Galan, 7 Piula Faasalele, 6 Thierry Dusautoir, 5 Joe Tekori, 4 Gregory Lamboley, 3 Census Johnston, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Gurthrö Steenkamp
Replacements: 16 Christopher Tolofua, 17 Vasil Kakovin, 18 Richie Gray, 19 Talalelei Gray, 20 Yacouba Camara, 21 Sébastien Bezy, 22 Luke McAlister, 23 Maks van Dyk

Pau: 15 Charly Malié, 14 Louis Dupichot, 13 Julien Fumat, 12 Watisoni Votu, 11 Mosese Ratuvou, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Thibault Daubagna, 8 Steffon Armitage, 7 Sean Dougall, 6 Ben Mowen, 5 Julien Pierre, 4 Fabrice Metz, 3 Malik Hamadache, 2 Thomas Bianchin, 1 Jamie Mackintosh
Replacements: 16 Quentin Lespiaucq, 17 Geoffrey Moise, 18 Masalosalo Tutaia, 19 Dan Ramsay, 20 James Coughlan, 21 Julien Tomas, 22 Brandon Fajardo, 23 Sylvain Charlet 

Last year’s result: Toulouse won 54-3
Kick-off: 18:30 local (17:30 GMT)
Referee: Adrien Descottes


Castres v Montpellier
Stade Pierre Antoine, Castres

Meeting number four for Castres and Montpellier, who also seem to meet in the Top 14 play-offs every season.

So far this year the home side has won every game, with Montpellier having a man sent off in both Champions Cup encounters.

Their discipline will have to be better in this one, although the difference in officiating in the Top 14 compared to Europe may help.

In Nemani Nadolo, they have arguably the most destructive finisher in Europe, while Castres have a prolific winger of their own in David Smith, albeit in a very different style.

Christophe Urios’ side showed against Leinster how tough they are to beat on home soil, and given how tight it is in the race for the top six, Castres really need this one.

The teams:

Castres: 15 Pierre Bérard, 14 Horacio Agulla, 13 Thomas Combezou, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 David Smith, 10 Julien Dumora, 9 Antoine Dupont, 8 Steve Mafi, 7 Anthony Jelonch, 6 Yannick Caballero, 5 Rodrigo Capo Ortega, 4 Victor Moreaux, 3 Daniel Kotze, 2 Jody Jenneker, 1 Mihaita Lazar
Replacements: 16 Brice Mach, 17 Antoine Tichit, 18 Loic Jacquet, 19 Alexandre Bias, 20 Rory Kockott, 21 Benjamin Urdapilleta, 22 Florian Vialelle, 23 Daniel Kotze

Montpellier: 15 Benjamin Fall, 14 Timoci Nagusa, 13 Vincent Martin, 12 Joseph Tomane, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Tomas O'Leary, 8 Antoine Battut, 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 5 Nico Janse van Rensburg, 4 Paul Willemse, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Charles Geli, 1 Grégory Fichten
Replacements: 16 Shalva Mamukashvili, 17 Mikheil Nariashvili, 18 Robins Tchale-Watchou, 19 Akapusi Qera, 20 Yvan Reilhac, 21 Henry Immelman, 22 Joffrey Michel, 23 Antoine Guillamon

Last year’s result: Castres won 34-19
Kick-off: 18:30 local (17:30 GMT)
Referee: Pascal Gauzère


Lyon v Racing 92
Matmut Stadium, Lyon

Lyon have already beaten Toulouse and Toulon at home this season, and would love to add Racing 92 to their collection of scalps.

Racing arrive in a difficult situation, they were a little better in their last two performances in Europe, although they had nothing to play for.

They are without a couple of internationals, but strangely Henry Chavancy, who had to pull out of the French squad, is included in their group for this week.

This will be their first league match of 2017 and they are still right in contention for the play-offs, three points behind sixth with a game in hand.

Still, this is the sort of game they probably need to win if they are to stay in touch.

The teams:

Lyon: 15 Toby Arnold, 14 Hosea Gear, 13 Theo Belan, 12 Hemani Paea, 11 Napolioni Nalaga, 10 Mike Harris, 9 Frédéric Michalak, 8 Carl Fearns, 7 Julien Bonnaire, 6 Julien Puricelli, 5 Thibault Privat, 4 Taiasina Tuifua, 3 Francisco Gomez Kodela, 2 Mickael Ivaldi, 1 Albertus Buckle
Replacements: 16 Ti'I Paulo, 17 Alexandre Menini, 18 Josh Bekhuis, 19 Félix Lambey, 20 Nicolas Durand, 21 Curtis Browning, 22 Jérôme Porical, 23 BJ Botha

Racing 92: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Teddy Thomas, 13 Joe Rokocoko, 12 Albert Vulivuli, 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Xavier Chauveau, 8 Antoine Claassen, 7 Yannick Nyanga, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Leone Nakarawa, 4 Manuel Carizza, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Virgile Lacombe, 1 Julien Brugnaut
Replacements: 16 Dimitri Szarzewski, 17 Viliamu Afatia, 18 Gerbrandt Grobler, 19 Chris Masoe, 20 James Hart, 21 Benjamin Dambielle, 22 Etienne Dussartre, 23 Cedate Gomes Sa

Previous result: Racing won 13-11 in 2015
Kick-off: 20:45 local (19:45 GMT)
Referee: Jérôme Garcès


Bayonne v Brive
Stade Jean Dauger, Bayonne

Bayonne have won three games, drawn two more, and yet find themselves 12 points from safety with just 11 games to go.

Their biggest issue is that when they lose, they tend to lose big, having not picked up a single bonus point all season.

At home to Brive they have no choice, they have to win, although even if they manage it, their situation looks hopeless.

Nicolas Godignon’s side have won just once on their travels this year, that famous win in Toulon, but sit just three points off sixth.

A second away win would keep them in that play-off hunt, while also effectively condemning Bayonne.

Previous result: Bayonne won 23-6 in 2014
Kick-off: 12:30 local (11:30 GMT)
Referee: Sébastien Minery


Bordeaux-Bègles v Clermont
Matmut Atlantique, Bordeaux

Like Castres and Montpellier, Bordeaux and Clermont must be sick of the sight of each other, particularly Raphaël Ibanez.

Last year it was Bordeaux who shocked les Jaunards to end their European campaign, but since then Clermont have won four in a row in meetings between the teams.

Their encounter at the Stade Chaban Delmas a fortnight ago was not great, Clermont winning 9-6, but with better weather and in the new football stadium; this has the potential to be a cracker.

Clermont will be missing a number of internationals, as well as the injured Wesley Fofana, but they were still breathtaking last week against Exeter.

Bordeaux should be brimming with confidence themselves, having won away to Ulster, and need this to keep pace with Castres.

Last year’s result: Clermont won 24-19
Kick-off: 16:45 local (15:45 GMT)
Referee: Mathieu Raynal

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