Top 14 Preview: Round 19

Date published: March 26 2016

1024x534.7096774193549__origin__0x44_Dan_Carter

The Six Nations is over and attention turns back to the Top 14, with a number of key fixtures this weekend.

Kicking things off on Saturday we have a battle between two potential title contenders when Racing 92 host Toulon a fortnight before they meet in Europe.

Later on Saturday Brive host Castres while Grenoble entertain La Rochelle.

And bottom two Agen and Oyonnax are both in action, the former at home to Montpellier while the latter travels to Pau.

Finally on Sunday there are two blockbuster encounters, with play-off contenders Bordeaux-Bègles welcoming leaders Clermont, before Toulouse take on Stade Français.

Fixtures

Saturday

Racing 92 v Toulon
Brive v Castres
Grenoble v La Rochelle
Agen v Montpellier
Pau v Oyonnax

Sunday

Bordeaux-Bègles v Clermont
Toulouse v Stade Français 


Racing 92 v Toulon
Stade Pierre Mauroy, Lille

In terms of depth of squad Saturday will pit arguably the strongest two teams in France against one another at the Stade Pierre Mauroy in Lille.

Having rested a number of players last week, Racing will expect a response to their thrashing at Montpellier, while Toulon had the week off having played their game with Bordeaux last month.

There is an extra intrigue to this game, with the teams set to meet again in Europe in a fortnight’s time, but for now the focus will be on securing a top two spot in the league.

Racing have been arguably the most consistent team in France this season, and with all their French internationals back, they’ll expect to win this one.

But with Toulon starting to find some form having won three of their last four matches, this should be a very exciting one as Bernard Laporte’s men aim for revenge from their opening day defeat at Mayol.

The teams:

Racing 92: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Juan Imhoff, 13 Henry Chavancy, 12 Dan Carter, 11 Marc Andreu, 10 Rémi Talès, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Chris Masoe, 7 Bernard le Roux, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Francois van der Merwe, 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Luc Ducalcon, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Julien Brugnaut
Replacements: 
16 Camille Chat, 17 Khatchik Vartanov, 18 Manuel Carizza, 19 Antonie Claassen, 20 Xavier Chauveau, 21 Johan Goosen, 22 Albert Vulivuli, 23 Martin Castrogiovanni

Toulon: 15 Quade Cooper, 14 Delon Armitage, 13 Théo Belan, 12 Tom Taylor, 11 James O'Connor, 10 Frédéric Michalak, 9 Éric Escande, 8 Charles Ollivon, 7 Gregory Annetta, 6 Virgile Bruni, 5 Kote Mikautadze, 4 Thibault Lassalle, 3 Manasa Saulo Romumu, 2 Jean Charles Orioli, 1 Alexandre Menini
Replacements: 16 Iuri Natriashvili, 17 Florian Fresia, 18 Andrew Cramond, 19 Jocelino Suta, 20 Kylian Jaminet, 21 Bryan Habana, 22 Anthony Meric, 23 Mohamed Boughanmi

Last year’s result: Racing won 17-10
Kick-off: 14:45 local (13:45 GMT)
Referee: Laurent Cardona


Brive v Castres
Stade Amédée Domenech, Brive

Castres stand out as the only team outside the top six who look to have a realistic shot of making the play-offs, and picked up an important late bonus point at Pau last week.

Brive had spent much of the season in the play-off spots, but have not won a game since late January and are falling away at just the wrong time.

With that in mind, Saturday’s clash is an intriguing one, with Castres in need of away wins if they are to leapfrog one of the current top six.

Brive, meanwhile, desperately need to put an end to their run without a win if they are to finish what was a promising season as more than simply lower table fodder.

For those teams who might miss out on the play-offs, there is also the opportunity for French players to make a claim for this summer’s tour to Argentina.

The likes of Gaëtan Germain and Antoine Tichit are two who could come into the reckoning in June.

The teams:

Brive: 15 Gaetan Germain, 14 Guillaume Namy, 13 Arnaud Mignardi, 12 Benjamin Petre, 11 Benito Masilevu, 10 Nicolas Bézy, 9 Jean-Baptiste Pejoine, 8 Petrus Hauman, 7 Poutasi Luafutu, 6 Said Hireche, 5 Dominiko Waqaniburotukula, 4 Johan Snyman, 3 Kevin Buys, 2 Francois Da Ros, 1 Lucas Pointud
Replacements: 
16 Guillaume Ribes, 17 Karlen Asieshvili, 18 Arnaud Mela, 19 Sisa Koyamaibole, 20 Bastien Duhalde, 21 Matthieu Ugalde, 22 Alfi Mafi, 23 Damien Jourdain

Castres: 15 Geoffrey Palis, 14 Julien Caminati, 13 Thomas Combezou, 12 Rémi Lamerat, 11 David Smith, 10 Ben Urdapilleta, 9 Julien Seron, 8 Alex Tulou, 7 Alexandre Bias, 6 Yannick Caballero, 5 Rodrigo Capo Ortega, 4 Christophe Samson, 3 Yohan Montes, 2 Marc-Antoine Rallier, 1 Mihai Lazar
Replacements: 
16 Julien Beziat, 17 Antoine Tichit, 18 Benjamin Desroches, 19 Piula Faasalele, 20 Antoine Dupont, 21 Julien Dumora, 22 Florian Vialelle, 23 Lucas Martinez

Last year’s result: Brive won 21-15
Kick-off: 18:30 local (17:30 GMT)
Referee: Jérôme Garcès


Grenoble v La Rochelle
Stade des Alpes, Grenoble

Grenoble picked up a valuable win over Brive last week, but realistically have little left to play for this season in the league.

Their priority will likely be in Europe, where they host Connacht in a fortnight in the Challenge Cup.

La Rochelle are enjoying a great season and could yet get back into the race for a top six spot, but more likely will be looking for a good finish to the season before some big guns arrive next year.

There will be some frustration for les Rochelais after last week’s loss at Stade Français which was a lot closer than the final score suggested.

With their French internationals back, including Uini Atonio, they will be looking for their first away win of the season.

The teams: 

Grenoble: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Maritino Nemani, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Nigel Hunt, 11 Xavier Mignot, 10 Jonathan Wisniewski, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Rory Grice, 7 Mahamadou Diaby, 6 Steven Setephano, 5 Hendrik Roodt, 4 Ben Hand, 3 Dayna Edwards, 2 Arnaud Heguy, 1 Fabien Barcella
Replacements: 
16 Loïck Jammes, 17 Denis Coulson, 18 Peter Kimlin, 19 Fabien Alexandre, 20 James Hart, 21 Gilles Bosch, 22 Fabien Gengenbacher, 23 Walter Desmaison

La Rochelle: 15 Kini Murimurivalu, 14 Jean Pascal Barraque, 13 Pierre Aguillon, 12 Lepani Botia, 11 Mali Hingano, 10 Zack Holmes, 9 Ricky Januarie, 8 Jone Qovu, 7 Afaesetiti Amosa, 6 Romain Sazy, 5 Leandro Cedaro, 4 Jason Eaton, 3 David Fe'ao, 2 Maxime Gau, 1 Thomas Synaeghel
Replacements: 
16 Hikairo Forbes, 17 Mike Corbel, 18 Mathieu Tanguy, 19 Zeno Kieft, 20 Julien Audy, 21 Ryan Dubois, 22 Pierre Berard, 23 Uini Atonio

Last year’s result: Grenoble won 30-12
Kick-off: 18:30 local (17:30 GMT)
Referee: Tual Trainini


Agen v Montpellier
Stade Armandie, Agen

Last week it seemed like a loser goes home match for Agen at Oyonnax, and for large periods they looked set to pick up the win on the road.

They couldn’t quite do it though, and Burton Francis’ late missed conversion cost them even a draw, leaving them rooted to the foot of the table, 15 points from safety.

With that in mind, a home game against Montpellier is far from ideal for Philippe Sella’s team.

Montpellier and their South African contingent have really hit their strides in recent weeks and look to be a serious threat come the end of the season.

They might have to do without the hugely impressive Jacques du Plessis for a considerable period after he was cited following apparent contact with the eye area of Benjamin Dambielle in last week’s hammering of Racing, but given their strength in depth it shouldn’t pose too many problems.

In terms of sheer power, they may be the most formidable outfit in the Top 14, although the loss of François Trinh-Duc to injury makes it even more likely that they will stick to a largely conservative game plan.

The teams: 

Agen: 15 Mathieu Lamoulie, 14 George Tilsley, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Lionel Mazars, 11 Pierre Fouyssac, 10 Burton Francis, 9 Alexis Bales, 8 Luke Hamilton, 7 Antoine Erbani, 6 Marco Kotze, 5 William Demotte, 4 Api Ratuniyarawa, 3 Dave Ryan, 2 Jalil Narjissi, 1 Arsene Nnomo
Replacements: 
16 Mike Tadjer, 17 Viliamu Afatia, 18 Marc Baget-Rabarou, 19 Sione Tau, 20 Clement Darbo, 21 François Bouvier, 22 Tamaz Mchedlidze, 23 Arthur Joly

Montpellier: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Timoci Nagusa, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Benjamin Fall, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic White, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Wian Liebenberg, 5 Thibault Privat, 4 Robins Tchale-Watchou, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Mickael Ivaldi, 1 Yvan Watremez
Replacements: 
16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Mikheil Nariashvili, 18 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 19 Kelian Galletier, 20 Bent Paillaugue, 21 Ben Lucas, 22 Marvin O'Connor 23 Davit Kubriashvili

Previous result: Montpellier won 13-9 in 2013
Kick-off: 18:30 local (17:30 GMT)
Referee: Maxime Chalon


Pau v Oyonnax
Stade du Hameau, Pau

Oyonnax kept their slim survival hopes alive last week with their battling win over Agen, but need to back it up against the other promoted side on Saturday.

Pau have done enough to edge away from relegation dangers, and another home win this week would all but guarantee their place in the Top 14 next season.

The last time the two sides met 100 points were scored, with Pau racking up 73 points.

That time Oyonnax had already been promoted as champions from Pro D2 and had nothing left to play for.

Given what is riding on this game, it seems unlikely their defence will be quite as porous this weekend.

The teams:

Pau: 15 Damien Traille, 14 Sireli Bobo, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Jale Vatubua, 11 Julien Fumat, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Samuel Marques, 8 James Coughlan, 7 Paddy Butler, 6 Daniel Ramsay, 5 Abdellatif Boutaty, 4 Julien Pierre, 3 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 2 Thomas Bianchin, 1 Julien Jacquot
Replacements: 
16 Quentin Lespiaucq, 17 Chris King, 18 Jovili Domolailai, 19 Jean Bouilhou, 20 Thibault Daubagna, 21 Brandon Fajardo, 22 Watisoni Votu, 23 Euan Murray

Oyonnax: 15 Silvere Tian, 14 Dug Codjo, 13 Jimmy Yobo, 12 Eamon Sheridan, 11 Uwanakaro Tawalo, 10 Nicky Robinson, 9 Fabien Cibray, 8 Maurie Fa'asavalu, 7 Pierrick Gunther, 6 Patrick Sobela, 5 Geoffrey Fabbri, 4 George Robson, 3 Marc Clerc, 2 Jody Jenneker, 1 Lukas Rapant
Replacements: 
16 Thomas Bordes, 17 Laurent DelBoulbes, 18 Leon Power, 19 Viliami Ma'afu, 20 Julien Blanc, 21 Quentin Etienne Lecoq, 22 Florian Denos, 23 Stan Wright

Previous result: Pau won 73-27 in Pro D2 in 2013
Kick-off: 20:45 local (19:45 GMT)
Referee: Adrien Descottes


Bordeaux-Bègles v Clermont
Stade Chaban Delmas, Bordeaux

The second of the huge games this weekend, leaders Clermont travel to in-form Bordeaux-Bègles in a fourth meeting of the sides this season.

It was Bordeaux who ended Clermont’s long unbeaten home record in Europe, knocking them out of the Champions Cup in the process, while they also drew at the Marcel Michelin earlier this season.

In fact Clermont’s only win over Bordeaux this season was also at the Chaban Delmas, in a game where Julien Ledevedec was sent off.

Both teams have been on fine runs recently, with their last losses both coming in January, and this should be another good one.

While they have been picking up the wins, Bordeaux haven’t been quite as impressive, with some hard-fought wins over lower table opposition, while Clermont have put a number of teams to the sword.

Having said that, when the two sides met here last season, Bordeaux produced arguably the performance of the season putting 51 on Clermont and tearing them to shreds.

If the weather is good – there’s no guarantee – this could be another thriller.

Last year’s result: Bordeaux-Bègles won 51-21
Kick-off: 16:15 local (15:15 GMT)
Referee: Romain Poite


Toulouse v Stade Français
Stadium de Toulouse, Toulouse

The classico as it was labelled for a while, France’s most successful club hosts the current Top 14 champions, but neither team really feels like that at the moment.

Toulouse have been hit harder by the Six Nations than any other team, although they haven’t helped themselves with some loose kicking and then indiscipline at Clermont last week.

Meanwhile Stade Français’ play-off hopes are effectively over now, and they have taken the opportunity to rest a couple of internationals this week after the Six Nations.

Toulouse are sixth as it stands, and with a strong finish could still challenge for at least a home barrage.

However another loss, at home, would open up the door for Castres and leave Toulouse desperately scrambling just to make the top six.

The loss of Patricio Albacete for the rest of the season, as well as Thierry Dusautoir indefinitely, doesn’t help in that regard, although they will be grateful for the return of a number of French internationals, particularly Sébastien Bézy.

Last year’s result: Toulouse won 22-10
Kick-off: 21:00 local (20:00 GMT)
Referee: Thomas Charabas

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