Top 14 Preview: Round 23

Date published: May 7 2016

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It might be the final day of the regular season for the rest of Europe but there is still plenty left to be decided in France.

With four rounds of action still to go, there is something on the line for almost every team, with the pick of the fixtures a potential relegation decider for the defending champions.

Stade Français have been in freefall but can all but secure their place in the top flight with victory at home to 13th-placed Oyonnax. 

Later on Saturday are three title contenders on the road, Montpellier in La Rochelle, Clermont at Pau and the Racing 92 at Brive.

The double header on Sunday then sees a desperate Agen team on the road against play-off chasing Toulouse, before Toulon host Castres in a familiar fixture.

Fixtures

Friday
Grenoble 14-20 Bordeaux

Saturday
Stade Français v Oyonnax
La Rochelle v Montpellier
Pau v Clermont
Brive v Racing 92

Sunday
Toulouse v Agen
Toulon v Castres


Stade Français v Oyonnax
Stade Jean Bouin, Paris

Stade Français seem to have already set off for their holidays after a miserable season, but they will find themselves in an almighty relegation scrap if they lost this week.

Ten points clear of Oyonnax, defeat would reignite the battle for survival, with Stade creaking at the wrong moment.

They have lost five times at home already this season, including three of their last four, and with a trip to Clermont next up, this is a game they can ill-afford to lose.

Oyonnax, meanwhile, kept their hopes of beating the drop alive last week with a one-point win over La Rochelle last week.

Under Christophe Urios they won in Paris last year, a repeat would be most welcome.

Stade Français: 15 Djibril Camara, 14 Waisea Nayacalevu, 13 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 12 Jonathan Danty, 11 Jérémy Sinzelle, 10 Jules Plisson, 9 Julien Dupuy, 8 Sergio Parisse, 7 Raphaël Lakafia, 6 Jono Ross, 5 Alexandre Flanquart, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Paul Alo Emile, 2 Rémi Bonfils, 1 Zak Taulafo
Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Zurabi Zhvania, 18 Paul Gabrillagues, 19 Antoine Burban, 20 Julien Tomas, 21 Morne Steyn, 22 Hugo Bonneval, 23 Rabah Slimani

Oyonnax: 15 Florian Denos, 14 Dug Cudjo, 13 Alaska Taufa, 12 Roimata Hansell-Pune, 11 Uwa Tawalo, 10 Quentin Etienne, 9 Julien Blanc, 8 Viliami Ma’afu, 7 Olivier Missoup, 6 Patrick Sobela, 5 Geoffrey Fabbri, 4 Fabrice Metz, 3 Antoine Guillamon, 2 Jérémie Maurouard, 1 Laurent Delboulbès
Replacements: 16 Thomas Bordes, 17 Lukas Rapant, 18 Leon Power, 19 Bilel Taieb, 20 Nuku Swerling, 21 Régis Lespinas, 22 Eamonn Sheridan, 23 Marc Clerc

Last year’s result: Oyonnax won 15-13
Kick-off: 15:00 local (14:00 GMT)
Referee: Thomas Charabas


La Rochelle v Montpellier
Stade Marcel Deflandre, La Rochelle

La Rochelle’s slim play-off hopes probably evaporated with last week’s loss to Oyonnax and now they face the in-form team in the Top 14.

Montpellier are steamrollering all before them with their combination of power and depth, and will be targeting a ninth straight win this weekend.

That could help them in their chase for top spot, as they sit just two points behind Clermont at the summit of the table.

Jake White appears to be keeping some of his powder dry however, with the likes of Bismarck and Jacques du Plessis, Pierre Spies and Timoci Nagusa among those rested for this trip.

With that in mind La Rochelle will be aiming to match last year’s result against Montpellier, and have nearly a full deck to pick from, even if they have little left to play for this season.

La Rochelle: 15 Kini Murimurivalu, 14 Gabriel Lacroix, 13 Elliot Roudil, 12 Pierre Aguillon, 11 Alofa Alofa, 10 Zack Holmes, 9 Ricky Januarie, 8 Kevin Gourdon, 7 Afa Amosa, 6 Zeno Kieft, 5 Jone Qovu, 4 Mathieu Tanguy, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Hika Forbes, 1 Mike Corbel
Replacements: 16 Benjamin Geledan, 17 Thomas Synaeghel, 18 Leandro Cedaro, 19 Damien Lagrange, 20 Julien Audy, 21 Fabien Fortassin, 22 Malietoa Hingano, 23 David Feao

Montpellier: 15 Anthony Floch, 14 Julien Malzieu, 13 Anthony Tuitavake, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Marvin O’Connor, 10 Ben Lucas, 9 Benoit Paillaugue, 8 Kelian Galletier, 7 Sitaleki Timani, 6 Ben Mowen, 5 Robins Tchale-Watchou, 4 Tom Donnelly, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Mickaël Ivaldi, 1 Pat Cilliers
Replacements: 16 Arno van Wyk, 17 Oleg Ischenko, 18 Thibaut Privat, 19 Martin Devergie, 20 Cameron Wright, 21 François Trinh-Duc, 22 Seveci Nakailagi, 23 Jannie du Plessis

Last year’s result: La Rochelle won 21-15
Kick-off: 15:00 local (14:00 GMT)
Referee: Mathieu Raynal


Pau v Clermont
Stade du Hameau, Pau

There are some welcome returns for Clermont after their frustrating loss to Racing 92 last time out.

Long-term absentees Jamie Cudmore, Davit Zirakashvili and Benson Stanley are all back in the matchday squad for the league leaders.

Meanwhile Pau will have both veteran Damien Traille and potential debutant Lucas Rey on their bench.

In his first spell at the Stade du Hameau, Traille played alongside current forwards coach Joel Rey, father of replacement hooker Lucas.

This weekend the 20-year-old is set for his debut off the bench, with Traille’s career having spanned father and son.

Pau: 15 Charlie Malie, 14 Julien Fumat, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Jale Vatubua, 11 Watisoni Votu, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Thibault Daubagna, 8 James Coughlan, 7 Jean Bouilhou, 6 Sean Dougall, 5 Daniel Ramsay, 4 Julien Pierre, 3 Giorgi Natsarashvili, 2 Mehdi Boundjema, 1 Jeremy Hurou
Replacements: 16 Lucas Rey, 17 Julien Jacquot, 18 Abdelatif Boutaty, 19 Paddy Butler, 20 Taniela Moa, 21 Brandon Fajardo, 22 Damien Traille, 23 Sylvan Charlet
 
Clermont: 15 Scott Spedding, 14 Noa Nakaitaci, 13 Benson Stanley, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Nick Abendanon, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Alexandre Lapandry, 6 Damien Chouly, 5 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 4 Paul Jedrasiak, 3 Davit Zirakashvili, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Raphaël Chaume
Replacements: 16 Marthinus van der Westhuizen, 17 Thomas Domingo, 18 Jamie Cudmore, 19 Julien Bardy, 20 Ludovic Radosavljevic, 21 Patricio Fernandez, 22 Jonathan Davies, 23 Daniel Kotze

Previous result: Clermont won 28-16 in 2005
Kick-off: 15:00 local (14:00 GMT)
Referee: Pascal Gauzère


Brive v Racing 92
Stade Amédée Domenech

Last week’s win over Clermont made this week’s decision to rest every starter even easier for Racing 92 as they prepare for the Champions Cup final.

With the exception of Virgile Lacombe, there isn’t a single player that started the European semi-final against Leicester included in the matchday squad, with a host of youngsters set for their top flight debuts.

Among the starters is the departing Mike Phillips, who forms an experienced half-back pairing with Rémi Talès, but given the inexperience elsewhere, Brive will fancy their chances of matching last year’s hammering of the Parisians.

A big defeat at Agen last time out put paid to any European ambitions, but after being the surprise package for much of the season, Brive will want to go out on a high, and the likes of Gaëtan Germain will be looking to win over Guy Novès.

Brive: 15 Gaëtan Germain, 14 Sevanaia Galala, 13 Arnaud Mignardi, 12 Benjamin Petre, 11 Guillaume Namy, 10 Nicolas Bezy, 9 Jean-Baptiste Péjoine, 8 Sisa Koyamaibole, 7 Saïd Hirèche, 6 Petrus Hauman, 5 Arnaud Méla, 4 Johan Snyman, 3 Kevin Buys, 2 Guillaume Ribes, 1 Karlen Asieshvili
Replacements: 16 Thomas Acquier, 17 Lucas Pointud, 18 Dominiko Waqaniburotu, 19 Poutasi Luafutu, 20 Teddy Iribaren, 21 Matthieu Ugalde, 22 Benito Masilevu, 23 Damien Jourdain
 
Racing 92: 15 Benjamin Dambielle, 14 Sean Robinson, 13 Etienne Dussartre, 12 Albert Vulivuli, 11 Marc Andreu, 10 Rémi Talès, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Thibault Dubarry, 7 Mathieu Voisin, 6 Luc Barba, 5 Ross Filipo, 4 Juandre Kruger, 3 Cedate Gomes Sa, 2 Camille Chat, 1 Julien Brugnaut
Replacements: 16 Virgile Lacombe, 17 Khatchik Vartanov, 18 Boris Palu, 19 Loïc Godener, 20 Xavier Chauveau, 21 Maxime Javaux, 22 Vincent Lasmarrigues, 23 Pierre Maiau

Last year’s result: Brive won 36-12
Kick-off: 16:30 local (15:30 GMT)
Referee: Tual Trainini


Toulouse v Agen
Stade Ernest Wallon, Toulouse

Sunday’s first clash will pit two teams fresh from morale-boosting victories against one another.

Toulouse created something of a shockwave with victory at Toulon, leading to plenty of frustration from Mourad Boudjellal, but also easing their worries about making the top six.

While a home barrage will require a very strong end of season, Racing’s European distraction means that it is not out of the question.

Meanwhile Agen remained alive with a comfortable win over Brive last time out, even if they are still well adrift of safety.

Toulouse will expect to win, and will be after a bonus point, in the week that Clément Poitrenaud – the club’s longest-serving player – announced he would be retiring at the end of the campaign.

The future of teammate Vincent Clerc remains up in the air, but the winger will just be focused on closing the gap on Top 14 record try-scorer Laurent Arbo even further, as he sits five tries away from the former Castres winger on 95 tries.

Agen currently trail Stade Français by 11 points so will not go down lightly as they bid to retain their place in the top flight.

Teams:

Toulouse: tbc

Agen: tbc

Previous result: Toulouse won 62-13 in 2012
Kick-off: 16:15 local (15:15 GMT)
Referee: Laurent Cardona


Toulon v Castres
Stade Félix Mayol, Toulon

In 2013 and 2014 Toulon and Castres played out the Top 14 final, and there’s every chance they might meet again in the play-offs this season.

It looks more likely to be in the barrages, although Castres still have work to do to get there, particularly following Bordeaux-Bègles’ win at Grenoble.

A win at Toulon would help their cause, but the three-time European champions have been under fire and will surely come out fighting this week.

Mourad Boudjellal was scathing of his squad after their loss to Toulouse, with the front five in particular coming in for criticism.

In a league where the scrum is so important, expect that to be much improved this week.

It will have to be against a Castres team that have really found their groove under Christophe Urios, and are being led in fine style by Argentine playmaker Benjamin Urdapilleta.

Teams:

Toulon: tbc

Castres: tbc

Last year’s result: Toulon won 37-21
Kick-off: 21:00 local (20:00 GMT)
Referee: Romain Poite

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