Top 14 Preview: Round 21

Date published: April 15 2016

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Time is running out at the top and bottom of the Top 14 and with only Racing and Grenoble still in Europe, all the focus is on the league.

Clermont hold a six-point lead over Montpellier and Racing after 20 rounds and that advantage shows no signs of slipping with the visit of struggling Agen.

Elsewhere Sunday's clash between Toulouse and Racing looks like the pick of the weekend's games, with Toulouse in danger of dropping out of the quarter-final places.

Fixtures

Friday
Grenoble 28-33 Castres

Saturday
Pau v Toulon
Brive v Oyonnax
Clermont v Agen
La Rochelle v Bordeaux-Bègles

Sunday
Stade Français v Montpellier
Toulouse v Racing 92


Grenoble v Castres
Stade des Alpes

Poised on the edge of the play-off places in 6th and 7th, what a contest this looks set to be between Grenoble and Castres on Friday night.

Winners last time out over Oyonnax and Toulouse respectively, Grenoble head into Round 21 chasing a fourth win a row in the league to go with their semi-final place in the Challenge Cup, after doing well to hold off the threat of Connacht last Saturday.

Bernard Jackman and his improving squad are already in position to improve on last season's 11th placed finish, and in the shape of Jonathan Wisniewski have one of the form fly-halves in the league – and also the third-highest points scorer so far on 212.

Castres duo Alex Tulou and David Smith have scored 15 tries between them so far this season.

The teams:

Grenoble: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Maritino Nemani, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Fabrice Estebanez, 11 Lucas Dupont, 10 Jonathan Wisniewski, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Steven Setephano, 7 James Hart, 6 Mahamadou Diaby, 5 Mathias Marie, 4 Peter Kimlin, 3 Rossouw De Klerk, 2 Loick Jammes, 1 Fabien Barcella
Replacements: 16 Paulin Mas, 17 Sona Taumalolo, 18 James Percival, 19 Henry Vanderglas, 20 Lilian Saseras, 21 Gilles Bosch, 22 Nigel Hunt, 23 Dayna Edwards

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

Last result: Grenoble won 31-23 in Castres
Kick-off: 20:45 local (18:45 GMT)
Referee: Cyril Lafon


Pau v Toulon
Stade Du Hameau

Bernard Laporte will be looking for a response from Toulon following their Champions Cup exit last Sunday against Racing, bringing an illustrious European reign to an end.

Now safe from relegation Pau can afford to plan for next season to bolster a squad which already includes star names in Conrad Smith and Colin Slade.

Pau haven't lost at home in the league since February 27 and pushed Toulon close the last time these sides met back in January at the Stade Félix Mayol. 

Plenty rests on how bad Toulon's European hangover is but there has to be plenty of fire to succeed in the league after only one title since Mourad Boudjellal took over, back in 2014, and knowing that a bye week to the semi-finals is up for grabs in contention with Montpellier and Racing.

The teams:

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

Toulon: 15 Delon Armitage, 14 Josua Tuisova, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 James O'Connor, 10 Tom Taylor, 9 Éric Escande, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Steffon Armitage, 6 Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe, 5 Romain Taofifenua, 4 Mamuka Gorgodze, 3 Manasa Saulo, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Xavier Chiocci
Replacements: 
16 Anthony Etrillard, 17 Alexandre Menini, 18 Thibault Lassalle, 19 Gregory Annetta, 20 Frédéric Michalak, 21 Theo Bélan, 22 Jonathan Pélissié, 23 Levan Chilachava

Last result: Toulon won 21-17 at home

Kick-off: 14:45 local (12:45 GMT)

Referee: Thomas Charabas


Brive v Oyonnax

Stade Amédée Domenech

Time is almost up for Oyonnax, 12 points adrift at the bottom of table and needing a victory more than ever to keep their relegation hopes alive.

Saturday's trip to Brive comes with a warning – concede any penalties within range of the posts for Gaetan Germain and the full-back is likely to punish you, give he's currently the league's top points scorer with 238.

That said Brive were well beaten on the road last time out against Montpellier, as they struggled to get to grips with the power of Montpellier's pack.

Oyonnax's desperation should give them plenty of fire but a record of one win from their last nine games doesn't read well. It's now or never.

The teams:

Brive: 15 Gaetan Germain, 14 Alfi Mafi, 13 Arnaud Mignardi, 12 Benjamin Petre, 11 Guillaume Namy, 10 Thomas Laranjeira, 9 Teddy Iribaren, 8 Sisa Koyamaibole, 7 Poutasi Luafutu, 6 Petrus Hauman, 5 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 4 Johan Snyman, 3 Damien Jourdain, 2 Thomas Acquier, 1 Karlen Asieshvili
Replacements: 16 Francois Da Ros, 17 Lucas Pointud, 18 Arnaud Mela, 19 Dominiko Waqaniburotukula, 20 Said Hireche, 21 Nicolas Bézy, 22 Chris Tuatara-Morrison, 23 Kevin Buys

Oyonnax: 15 Florian Denos, 14 Dug Codjo, 13 Jimmy Yobo, 12 Roimata Hansell-Pune, 11 Daniel Ikpefan, 10 Quentin Etienne, 9 Julien Blanc, 8 Viliami Ma'afu, 7 Olivier Missoup, 6 Patrick Sobela, 5 Geoffrey Fabbri, 4 Leon Power, 3 Antoine Guillamon, 2 Jeremie Maurouard, 1 Laurent DelBoulbes
Replacements: 
16 Jody Jenneker, 17 Soane Tonga'uiha, 18 Shay Kerry, 19 Maurie Fa'asavalu, 20 Fabien Cibray, 21 Lucas Chouvet, 22 Alaska Taufa, 23 Stan Wright

Last result: Brive won 34-9 at Oyonnax
Kick-off: 18:30 local (16:30 GMT)
Referee: Sébastien Minery


Clermont v Agen
Parc Sports Marcel Michelin

Les Jaunards will be watching other results while hoping to extend their comfortable advantage at the top of the league against Agen.

Their last outing against Toulon was a matter of patience before they eventually clinched victory with Damien Chouly's late converted score – their seventh win in a row in a run that has propelled them out of the pack into top spot.

Being knocked out of the Champions Cup in the group stages appears to have refocused Clermont's season and after last season's loss in the Top 14, it's not hard to guess their aspirations for the current campaign.

Agen meanwhile look down and out, 16 points clear of safety with a maximum 30 remaining and having only won three games all season.

The teams: 

Clermont: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 David Strettle, 13 Aurélien Rougerie, 12 Jonathan Davies, 11 Alivereti Raka, 10 Brock James, 9 Ludovic Radosavljevic, 8 Camille Gerondeau, 7 Alexandre Lapandry, 6 Judicael Cancoriet, 5 Loïc Jacquet, 4 Paul Jedrasiak, 3 Clément Ric, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Thomas Domingo
Replacements: 
16 Pellow van der Westhuizen, 17 Raphael Chaume, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Arthur Iturria, 20 Enzo Sanga, 21 Camille Lopez, 22 Damian Penaud, 23 Doug Wooldridge

Agen: 15 Mathieu Lamoulie, 14 George Tilsley, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Tamaz Mchedlidze, 11 Pierre Fouyssac, 10 Bautista Guemes, 9 Paul Abadie, 8 Marc Baget-Rabarou, 7 Antoine Erbani, 6 Sione Tau, 5 William Demotte, 4 Marco Kotze, 3 Arthur Joly, 2 Mike Tadjer, 1 Viliamu Afatia
Replacements: 
16 Marc Barthomeuf, 17 Quentin Bethune, 18 Corentin Braendlin, 19 Antoine Miquel, 20 Clement Darbo, 21 Filipo Nakosi, 22 Leka Tagotago, 23 Dave Ryan

Last result: Clermont won 33-16 in Agen
Kick-off: 18:30 local (16:30 GMT)
Referee: Tual Trainini


La Rochelle v UBB
Stade Marcel Deflandre

La Rochelle haven't given up hope of taking the crucial seventh place spot in the table come the season's end, which guarantees qualification for next season's Champions Cup.

Zack Holmes has been on song with the boot all season long with La Rochelle dominating at home, winning their last nine matches since that opening day thrashing from Clermont.

UBB stand as good a chance as anyone of breaking that run, with the league's great entertainers firmly in the hunt for the play-offs and currently tied on points with Toulouse.

The visitors are however without a league win since March 5, having drawn with Toulouse and lost to Clermont and Racing 92.

The teams: 

La Rochelle: 15 Kini Murimurivalu, 14 Alofa Alofa, 13 Pierre Aguillon, 12 Mali Hingano, 11 Elliot Roudil, 10 Zack Holmes, 9 Ricky Januarie, 8 Afaesetiti Amosa, 7 Kevin Gourdon, 6 Romain Sazy, 5 Mathieu Tanguy, 4 Jason Eaton, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Maxime Gau, 1 Mike Corbel
Replacements: 
16 Hikairo Forbes, 17 Thomas Synaeghel, 18 Leandro Cedaro, 19 Zeno Kieft, 20 Anthony Fuertes, 21 Julien Audy, 22 Pierre Berard, 23 Gagi Bazadze

UBB: 15 Darly Domvo, 14 Metuisela Talebula, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Julien Rey, 11 Blair Connor, 10 Pierre Bernard, 9 Baptiste Serin, 8 Loann Goujon, 7 Peter Saili, 6 Louis-Benoit Madaule, 5 Berend Botha, 4 Julien Ledevedec, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Ole Avei, 1 Sébastien Taofifenua
Replacements: 
16 Benat Auzqui, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Cyril Cazeaux, 19 Luke Braid, 20 Yann Lesgourgues, 21 Jean-Baptiste Dubie, 22 Romain Lonca, 23 Francisco Gomez Kodela

Last result: UBB won 21-16 at home
Kick-off: 20:45 local (18:45 GMT)
Referee: Pascal Gauzère


Stade Français v Montpellier
Stade Jean Bouin

Reigning champion Stade Français produced a limp effort in their Champions Cup quarter-final, their final hopes for something to cheer about this season, and require possibly one more win to truly be assured of safety.

With 32 points thus far, 14 clear of Oyonnax, it's been a remarkably poor campaign for the Top 14 champions.

Montpellier meanwhile are on a roll, their collection of South Africans and Frenchman at last clicking under Jake White to blow teams away up front before the backs do the rest.

Montpellier haven't lost in the league since February 20 and are through to the final four in the Challenge Cup, a run of hot form towards the end of the season coming just at the right time. No one either has scored more tries than Timoci Nagusa with 11.

Last result: Montpellier won 44-20 at home
Kick-off: 14:30 local (12:30 GMT)
Referee: Romain Poite


Toulouse v Racing 92
Stadium de Toulouse

Racing are set to rest Dan Carter and a number of other top stars ahead of their Champions Cup semi-final against Leicester after a bruising win over Toulon last Sunday.

With that in mind Toulouse will be heavy favourites, even having lost on the road to Castres in Round 20.

After such a dominant run through the winter Racing have let that surge of form which coincided with Carter's arrival slip away somewhat, but their away win at UBB last time out came just at the right time.

France scrum-half Sébastien Bézy has been on song with the boot, with 132 points so far this season.

Last result: Racing won 28-13 at home
Kick-off: 16:15 local (14:15 GMT)
Referee: Mathieu Raynal

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