Top 14 Preview: Round 24

Date published: May 9 2015

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Just three weeks remain but nothing is decided in the Top 14 with relegation and play-off places still wide open.

Lyon could finally be put out of their misery, while Toulon can all but seal a top two spot, but in between there is everything to play for.

Castres, La Rochelle, Brive and Bayonne are all on the road in the battle to beat the drop, while Bordeaux-Bègles and Montpellier need wins to keep their faint play-off hopes alive, as well as to edge away from the drop.

Toulouse and Clermont are fighting for a spot in the semi-finals, while the Parisian derby on Sunday will also have huge play-off implications. 

Fixtures:

Saturday
Toulon v Castres
Bordeaux-Bègles v Oyonnax
Lyon v La Rochelle
Montpellier v Bayonne
Toulouse v Brive
Grenoble v Clermont

Sunday
Racing-Métro v Stade Français


Toulon v Castres
Stade Félix Mayol, Toulon

It's back to domestic business for Toulon after sealing their third straight European title, and they have a repeat of the last two Top 14 finals to come back to.

There certainly won't be three Toulon v Castres finals in a row, as the 2013 champions fight for their lives, and given their run-in, even a recent surge in form might not be enough to save Castres.

While Toulon could suffer a post-European hangover, they have still named a very strong squad for this weekend, knowing that they aren't quite home and dry in the race for an automatic semi-final spot.

Currently four points clear of Clermont in second, and a further point clear of Toulouse, Toulon realistically only need to win their two remaining home games to book their place in the final four.

However a slip-up this weekend, and they might find themselves travelling to Clermont in need of a win, so it will be straight back to business.

Castres have games against Brive and Racing-Métro still to come, and their focus appears to be on the home clash with Brive, as they send a much-changed side to the one that beat Clermont last time out.

It's a dangerous strategy with so little to choose between the teams at the bottom, but if they beat Brive, Castres will feel it was worth it.

Toulon: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Drew Mitchell, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Rudi Wulf, 11 Josua Tuisova, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 Sébastian Tillous-Borde, 8 Chris Masoe, 7 Steffon Armitage, 6 Juan Martín Fernandez Lobbe, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Carl Hayman, 2 Guihelm Guirado, 1 Xavier Chiocci
Replacements: 16 Jean-Charles Orioli, 17 Alexandre Menini, 18 Romain Taofifeuna, 19 Virgile Bruni, 20 David Smith, 21 Frédéric Michalak, 22 Eric Escande, 23 Martin Castrogiovanni

Castres: 15 Julien Dumora, 14 Romain Marital, 13 Thomas Combezou, 12 Romain Cabannes, 11 Marcel Garvey, 10 Daniel Kirkpatrick, 9 Cedric Garcia, 8 Jannie Bornman, 7 Mathieu Babillot, 6 Ibrahim Diarra, 5 Benjamin Desroches, 4 Christophe Samson, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Mathieu Bonnello, 1 Mathieu Bonnello
Replacements: 16 Marc-Antoine Rallier, 17 Yannick Forestier, 18 Rodrigo Capo Ortega, 19 Johnnie Beattie, 20 Rory Kockott, 21 Rémi Lamerat, 22 Geoffrey Palis, 23 Paea Fa'anunu

Result last season: Toulon won 18-10
Kick-off: 14:45 local (13:45 GMT)
Referee: Mathieu Raynal


Bordeaux-Bègles v Oyonnax
Stade André Moga, Bordeaux

The race for the top six looks to be just about finished, but Bordeaux-Bègles could prolong it for another week with a win over Oyonnax.

A victory would also ease Bordeaux's relegation fears, although their win at Lyon last time out was arguably more important in that regard.

This will mark an important weekend for Bordeaux, as they play their final game at the Stade André Moga, their historic old ground will only be used for training from now on.

Bordeaux's home record this season, particularly at new ground Stade Chaban Delmas, had been outstanding, but in recent weeks they have faltered with losses to Stade Français and La Rochelle.

They now sit six points behind Oyonnax, although a win this weekend, ideally with a bonus point, will at least give them a chance of a top six spot.

For Oyonnax, last week's win over Racing was huge, and with a home game against Lyon up next, they are within touching distance of reaching the play-offs for the first time.

It's been a remarkable turnaround for the club and they join Toulouse as the best team in the second half of the season.

The win over Racing a fortnight ago proved once more that they can cope with the big guns, a win at Bordeaux would only strengthen their case as outsiders for the title.

Bordeaux-Bègles: 15 Ulrich Beyers, 14 Sofiane Guitoune, 13 Jayden Spence, 12 Julien Rey, 11 Blair Connor, 10 Pierre Bernard, 9 Heini Adams, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Hugo Chalmers, 6 Louis-Benoît Madaule, 5 Adam Jaulhac, 4 Jandré Marais, 3 Francisco Gomez Kodela, 2 Ole Avei, 1 Jean-Baptise Poux.
Replacements: 16 Beñat Auzqui, 17 Jefferson Poirot, 18 Mathew Graham, 19 Marco Tauleigne, 20 Yann Lesgourgues, 21 Lionel Beauxis, 22 Metuisela Talebula, 23 Patrick Toetu.

Oyonnax: 15 Florian Denos (c), 14 Silvère Tian, 13 Pierre Aguillon, 12 Roimata Hansell-Pune, 11 Alaska Taufa, 10 Benjamin Urdapilleta, 9 Fabien Cibray, 8 Villami Ma'afu, 7 Olivier Missoup, 6 Maurie Fa'asavalu, 5 Damien Lagrange, 4 Thibault Lassalle, 3 Marc Clerc, 2 Jody Jenneker, 1 Antoine Tichit
Replacements: 16 Paula Ngauamo, 17 Ruaan du Preez, 18 Leon Power, 19 Pedrie Wannenburg, 20 Valentin Ursache, 21 Yohan Domenech, 22 Regis Lespinas, 23 Soane Tonga'uiha

Result last season: Bordeaux-Bègles 35-10
Kick-off: 18.30 local (17.30 GMT)
Referee: Christophe Berdos


Lyon v La Rochelle
Matmut Stadium, Lyon

The promoted duo face off at the Matmut Stadium, with La Rochelle looking to take another step towards safety, while confirming Lyon's relegation.

It's been a sense of déjà vu for Lyon, who again will drop out of the Top 14 after only a single season, and while they remain ambitious, it's been a disappointing campaign.

They've lost their last eight games and it looks like a run of four defeats by a total of nine points in January and February ended up taking its toll psychologically.

La Rochelle, in contrast, are unbeaten in seven, having stunned Toulon last weekend, and they have now beaten four likely play-off teams this season.

They picked up their first away win at Bordeaux on their last game on the road, and another would put them in great shape to beat the drop.

Their remaining games are against Racing and Bayonne, while they are currently three points clear of 13th spot.

Two wins would almost certainly be enough to keep them up, but a loss at Lyon might need them needing a win against a desperate Racing side to avoid going into the final weekend in the bottom two.

Lyon: 15 Jérôme Porical, 14 Toby Arnold, 13 Thibaut Regard, 12 Waisale Sukanaveita, 11 Vincent Martin, 10 Romain Loursac, 9 Ricky Januarie, 8 Sakiusa Matadigo, 7 Eugène N'Zi, 6 George Smith, 5 Coenraad Basson, 4 Karim Ghezal, 3 Horatiu Pungea, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Jérémy Castex
Replacements: 16 Cameron Mapusua, 17 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 18 Christian Njewel, 19 Frans Viljoen, 20 Mathieu Lorée, 21 Lachie Munro, 22 Paul Bonnefond, 23 Hoani Tui

La Rochelle: 15 Kini Murimurivalu, 14 Alofa Alofa, 13 Malietoa Hingano, 12 Levani Botia, 11 Sireli Bobo, 10 Fabien Fortassin, 9 Julien Audy, 8 Loann Goujon, 7 Jone Qovu, 6 Jason Eaton, 5 Leandro Cedaro, 4 Romana Graham, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Hikairo Forbes, 1 Vincent Pelo
Replacements: 16 Jordan Seneca, 17 Thomas Synaeghel, 18 Jacobus Grobler, 19 Romain Sazy, 20 Julien Berger, 21 Peter Grant, 22 Nicolas Djebaili, 23 Lekso Kaulashvili

Result last season: Lyon won 25-14 in Pro D2
Kick-off: 18.30 local (17.30 GMT)
Referee: Maxime Chalon


Montpellier v Bayonne
Altrad Stadium, Montpellier

Montpellier already have one eye on next season, with Jesse Mogg their latest recruit, but they still have work to do this year.

It's a testament to how tight the table is that Montpellier could conceivably finish anywhere from fifth to relegation, although they are most likely in a race for seventh spot and a European play-off.

Jake White hasn't exactly got his side firing since replacing Fabien Galthié, but the return of François Trinh-Duc seems to have had some impact.

At home they are difficult to beat at the moment, and they will fancy their chances of turning over Bayonne.

The Basque side are currently 13th, in what is now an annual battle for survival, but they come into the game in fine form after Scott Spedding's hat-trick helped them thump Grenoble last time out.

The week of build-up has been dominated by more talk of a potential fusion between Bayonne and Biarritz, although given the animosity between the sides, it's hard to see how that could happen.

Still, as both Basque sides struggle to cope with some of the big money teams, and Pau, backed by oil giant Total, are next, a Basque amalgamation might be needed.

Bayonne will hope they can save their skins before that happens, and with no games against teams in the top six, they have a chance.

Montpellier: 15 Ben Lucas, 14 Lucas Dupont, 13 Anthony Tuitavake, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Yohann Artru, 10 François Trinh-Duc, 9 Benoît Paillaugue, 8 Akapusi Qera, 7 Antoine Battut, 6 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 5 Sitaleki Timani, 4 Tom Donnelly, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Charles Geli, 1 Mikheil Nariashvili
Replacements: 16 Mickaël Ivaldi, 17 Yvan Watremez, 18 Robins Tchale-Watchou, 19 Ben Mowen, 20 Kélian Galletier, 21 Jonathan Pelissié, 22 Albert Vulivuli, 23 Chris King

Bayonne: 15 Scott Spedding, 14 Joe Rokocoko, 13 Gabiriele Lovobalavu, 12 Matthieu Ugalde, 11 Marvin O'Connor, 10 Santiago Fernandez, 9 Guillaume Rouet, 8 Charles Ollivon, 7 Lisiate Fa'aoso, 6 Jean Monribot, 5 Mark Chisholm, 4 Dewald Senekal, 3 Gert Muller, 2 Anthony Etrillard, 1 Lucas Pointud
Replacements: 16 David Roumieu, 17 Aretz Iguiniz, 18 Pierre Gayraud, 19 Jean-Jo Marmouyet, 20 Christophe Loustalot, 21 Bastien Fuster, 22 Martin Bustos Moyano, 23 Nicolas Chocou

Result last season: Montpellier won 43-27
Kick-off: 18.30 local (17.30 GMT)
Referee: Pascal Pechambert


Toulouse v Brive
Stade Ernest Wallon, Toulouse

L'Equipe this week described Toulouse as a paradox, and it's fair to say they've been tough to decipher this season.

The league's best team in the second half of the year, they are now well-positioned to finish in the top two, having at one point looked like relegation candidates.

With wins at Toulon, Stade Français and Bordeaux-Bègles, among others, they have been as good as anyone on their travels, but at home it's been much harder work.

Of the bottom six, only Castres failed to pick up anything at Toulouse, with Lyon and La Rochelle both coming close to their first away wins of the season at Ernest Wallon.

The final member of that bottom six is Brive, who are in town this weekend, and it's easy to imagine it being another tight one.

While Brive's away form is miserable, they've not even picked up a losing bonus point since November, they know how to pick things up down the stretch.

In Nicolas Bezy they have a fly-half who will have everything to prove this weekend, and the Toulouse academy product could even go up against his little brother, who is still at the club.

Beyond all that, there is also the possibility that this will be Guy Novès' penultimate game in charge at Ernest Wallon, with the rumours of him succeeding Philippe Saint-André growing by the week.

Novès has batted them aside as expected, but there might be a little more riding on Toulouse's end of season if their symbolic coach is on his way.

Toulouse: 15 Maxime Médard, 14 Vincent Clerc, 13 Yann David, 12 Luke Mcalister, 11 Yoann Huget, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Sebastien Bézy, 8 Gillian Galan, 7 Imanol Harinordoquy, 6 Thierry Dusautoir, 5 Patricio Albacete, 4 Joe Tekori, 3 Census Johnston, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Gurthro Steenkamp. 
Replacements: 16 Julien Marchand, 17 Schalk Ferreira, 18 Yoann Maestri, 19 Louis Picamoles, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Florian Fritz, 22 Timoci Matanavou, 23 Neemia Tialata

Brive: 15 Gaeten Germain, 14 Alfie MafiGuillaume Namy, 13 Riaan Swanepoel, 12 Andrew Ma'ilei, 11 Malakai Bakaniceva Radikedike, 10 Nicolas Bézy, 9 Jean-Baptiste Péjoine, 8 Kieran Murphy, 7 Saïd Hirèche, 6 Dominiko Waqaniburotu, 5 Arnaud Mela, 4 Peet Marais, 3 Giorgi Jgenti, 2 Thomas Acquier, 1 Karien Asieshvili
Replacements: 16 Francois Da Ros, 17 Johan Coetzee, 18 Fabian Sanconnia, 19 Poutasi Luafutu, 20 Damien Neveu, 21 Arnaud Mignardi, 22 Guillaume Namy, 23 Damien Jourdain

Result last season: Toulouse won 16-9
Kick-off: 18.30 local (17.30 GMT)
Referee: Laurent Cardona


Grenoble v Clermont
Stade des Alpes, Grenoble

For two seasons in a row Grenoble have fallen apart in the second half of the season to go from play-off contenders to desperate relegation scramblers.

It's happened again this season and they simply have to beat Clermont this weekend to stop the rot.

They've lost two in a row at home, and were this week dealt another blow with the loss of Henry Vanderglas for the rest of the campaign due to injury.

With two home games remaining, they still have it in their own hands, but they are just a point clear of the relegation spots, and another home defeat would leave them in huge trouble.

How tough it will be this weekend is difficult to say. Clermont come into the game on the back of a tough loss in the Champions Cup final, and when the same thing happened in 2013, they fell apart.

This year might be different. In 2013 they could probably claim they were the better side, whereas last Saturday, Toulon were a level above.

Will that be enough to galvanise the team, or will they once again fade after European disappointment?

They have work to do, with a place in the top two now looking very precarious.

Understandably Clermont have been prioritising Europe, but their reserves have struggled in the Top 14, and they've lost three in a row domestically.

Toulon come to town next week, before a final game at Montpellier, so Clermont need to respond quickly or they could find themselves dropping down the table, with a home barrage not yet secured.

It will be a huge test of character for Franck Azéma's team, and will show whether they are realistic candidates to stop Toulon completing a second successive double.

Grenoble: 15 Fabien Gengenbacher, 14 Benjamin Thiery, 13 Xavier Mignot, 12 Jackson Willison, 11 Gio Aplon, 10 Jonathan Wisniewski, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Rory Grice, 7 Fabien Alexandre, 6 Peter KimlinHenry Vanderglas, 5 Hendrik Roodt, 4 Ben Hand, 3 Dayna Edwards, 2 Arnaud Héguy, 1 Fabien Barcella
Replacements: 16 Laurent Bouchet, 17 Albertus Buckle, 18 Florian Faure, 19 Ross Skeate, 20 Jonathan Best, 21 James Hart, 22 Chris Farrell, 23 Richard Choirat

Clermont: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 Aurélien Rougerie, 13 Benson Stanley, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Noa NakaitaciJulien Malzieu, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Ludovic RadosavljevicMorgan Parra, 8 Peceli Yato, 7 Julien Bardy, 6 Damien Chouly, 5 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 4 Paul Jedrasiak, 3 Clément Ric, 2 John Ulugia, 1 Thomas DomingoRaphaël Chaume
Replacements: 16 Benjamin Kayser, 17 Raphaël Chaume, 18 Loïc Jacquet, 19 Julien Bonnaire, 20 Morgan Parra, 21 Mike Delany, 22 Jonathan Davies, 23 Davit Zirakashvili

Result last season: Grenoble won 16-13
Kick-off: 18.30 local (17.30 GMT)
Referee: Romain Poite


Racing-Métro v Stade Français
Stade Yves du Manoir, Colombes

The Paris derby on Sunday has plenty riding on it, with Stade Français under particular pressure.

Their loss at home to Toulouse last time out was catastrophic, with Jules Plisson ruled out for the season with a dislocated shoulder, while their top two hopes also disappeared.

The good news is that centre Jonathan Danty's red card has seen him suspended for two weeks, farcically missing no games as the ban ran out on Friday.

Racing probably saw their own top two hopes go out the window last time out with defeat at Oyonnax, but there is a home barrage on the line.

The clash between these two earlier this season was a fractious affair, with Laurent Labit earning a reprimand and a ban for his comments on the officials afterwards.

He'll be expecting to have less reason for complaint on Sunday, and it will be a big test for Morné Steyn as he has to carry Stade's play-off challenge in Plisson's absence.

The Springbok fly-half has really struggled in Paris, but he will now get his chance to show why he was brought in as Stade try to secure a first play-off spot since 2009.

Racing-Métro: tbc

Stade Français: tbc

Result last season: Racing won 16-12
Kick-off: 16:15 local (15.15 GMT)
Referee: Jérôme Garcès

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