Top 14 Preview: Round 20

Date published: April 1 2016

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A week before attention turns back to Europe, the Top 14 continues its path towards the finishing straight.

There are crucial matches at both ends of the table this week, including a repeat of last year’s Champions Cup final on Sunday.

After Montpellier kick things off on Friday against Brive it will be a huge derby game between Castres and Toulouse which could have huge implications on the top six.

Saturday afternoon is all about survival, with Stade Français travelling to La Rochelle, Agen hosting Pau and then Oyonnax welcoming Grenoble.

On Saturday evening Bordeaux-Bègles and Racing 92 will be looking to put right last week’s losses.

And finally on Sunday the Vélodrome in Marseille will play host to Toulon’s clash with leaders Clermont.

Fixtures

Friday
Montpellier v Brive

Saturday
Castres v Toulouse
La Rochelle v Stade Français
Agen v Pau
Oyonnax v Grenoble
Bordeaux-Bègles v Racing 92

Sunday
Toulon v Clermont


Castres v Toulouse
Stade Pierre Antoine, Castres

Toulouse stopped the rot at home to Stade Français last week and served a reminder that when they are given space they can be a joy to watch.

That was a Stade team minus a number of internationals however, and Castres will offer altogether sterner resistance.

With eight points separating the teams going into the game, Castres simply have to win to stay in the play-off hunt.

Toulouse, meanwhile, know that a strong finish to the season could yet see them get back into the battle for the top four, or even top two, but they’ll need to start winning on the road.

They will be boosted by the fitness of Louis Picamoles, who limped off early last week, while Castres have Rory Kockott in fine form and having signed a recent contract extension.

The teams:

Castres:

Toulouse:

Last year’s result: Toulouse won 13-9
Kick-off: 14:45 local (13:45 BST)
Referee: Alexandre Ruiz


La Rochelle v Stade Français
Stade Marcel Deflandre, La Rochelle

Stade’s focus may well be on Europe and next week’s quarter-final in Leicester, but they could really do with a win just to ease any relegation fears.

La Rochelle doesn’t seem like the obviously place to do it though, with Patrice Collazo’s team formidable at home.

Both teams were well-beaten on the road last week, although La Rochelle were very much in their game against Grenoble for a half before falling away.

Given the circumstances of this game, they should make up for it and do a little bit better than last year’s draw in the same fixture.

The teams:

La Rochelle:

Stade Français:

Last year’s result: The teams drew 19-19
Kick-off: 18:30 local (17:30 BST)
Referee: Cyril Lafon


Agen v Pau
Stade Armandie, Agen

It’s last chance saloon for Agen against the team with whom they were promoted a year ago.

Last week’s loss to Montpellier felt like a hangover from the Oyonnax defeat, and Agen need an instant response.

Pau did what they needed to do against Oyonnax last week, but might struggle to offer the same combination of power and pace that Montpellier managed.

Still, another win on the road and their place in the Top 14 next year will be guaranteed, although it is already virtually in the bag.

The teams:

Agen:

Pau:

Last year’s result: Agen won 41-20 in Pro D2
Kick-off: 18:30 local (17:30 BST)
Referee: Pascal Gauzère


Oyonnax v Grenoble
Stade Charles Mathon, Oyonnax

Much like Agen, it’s win or bust for Oyonnax this week, but they have a favourable match-up.

Grenoble should be focusing on their European quarter-final against Connacht, and Oyonnax will fancy their chances at home.

It will be interesting to see if Paul O’Connell’s influence will have had any impact on the Grenoble pack, after he dropped in on training this week while visiting friend Mike Prendergast.

Still, Grenoble’s main focus should be on next week, and Oyonnax will be targeting a win to keep their survival ambitions alive for another week.

The teams:

Oyonnax:

Grenoble:

Last year’s result: Oyonnax won 40-27
Kick-off: 18:30 local (17:30 BST)
Referee: Romain Poite


Bordeaux-Bègles v Racing 92
Matmut Atlantique, Bordeaux

It’s hard to know who will have been more disappointed out of Laurent Marti and Jacky Lorenzetti, with both UBB and Racing falling to home defeats.

Against a weakened Toulon team, Racing looked to have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, only for Martin Castrogiovanni to hand it back with a stupid penalty at the death.

Bordeaux, meanwhile, threw away a 19-0 lead against Clermont allowing the leaders to come back and snatch the win.

With a chance to get their revenge on Toulon next week, Racing don’t appear to have made this game a priority, with Maxime Machenaud and Dan Carter two of those to be rested for the trip.

Bordeaux have no such concerns, and at the new Matmut Atlantique – the football stadium built for Euro 2016 – they will hope to make it two from two having already beaten Toulon there.

The teams:

Bordeaux-Bègles:

Racing 92:

Last year’s result: Bordeaux won 30-21
Kick-off: 20:45 local (19:45 BST)
Referee: Cedric Marchat


Toulon v Clermont
Stade Vélodrome, Marseille

It’s strange to say that it’s been an up and down season for the Top 14 leaders, but Clermont have certainly endured some rough moments so far in this campaign.

While the incredible denouement that saw them crash out of Europe might been the standout event, their home loss to Toulon must rank right up there.

Against a Toulon team missing a few starters, Clermont were put to the sword, with a late intercept try even handing Toulon a bonus point. With that in mind, Clermont will be desperate for revenge but their recent record against Toulon is not good.

The European champions have won three of the last four, including the Champions Cup final, while their last home defeat to Clermont came five years ago.

Having said that, the last meeting between the two at the Vélodrome – pre-renovation – ended in a 26-26 draw, with Noa Nakaitaci making a name for himself.

A repeat of that, or a Clermont victory would take them one step closer to finishing the season top.

The teams:

Toulon:

Clermont:

Last year’s result: Toulon won 27-19
Kick-off: 16:15 local (15:15 BST)
Referee: Mathieu Raynal

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