Top 14 Preview: Round 26

Date published: June 3 2016

At long last we reach the end of the regular season in France and at the top of the table there is still a lot on the line.

With all seven fixtures taking place at 20:45 on Sunday night it will be an exciting evening’s entertainment.

Clermont and Montpellier are battling for top spot, while Racing 92 and Toulon are also after semi-final spots.

For their part Toulouse could yet sneak a home barrage, and Castres and Bordeaux-Bègles just want to crack the top six.

Fixtures

Sunday

Grenoble v Toulouse
Toulon v Bordeaux-Bègles
Racing 92 v Montpellier
Brive v Pau
Agen v Oyonnax
Clermont v La Rochelle
Castres v Stade Français


Grenoble v Toulouse
Stade des Alpes, Grenoble

Very quietly Toulouse have reeled off a run of five successive wins in the Top 14 including victories over play-off teams in Racing, Toulon and most recently Clermont.

None of the performances have been so overwhelmingly impressive to vault Ugo Mola’s team back into the top tier of title contenders, but no team will look forward to playing them in the play-offs.

They will be after a final win to wrap up the campaign, and potentially set up a home barrage, but victories in Grenoble have been hard to come by in recent seasons.

Add in the returns of Jonathan Wisniewski and Xavier Mignot, with both looking to impress Guy Novès, and this has the makings of a tough match-up.

Last year’s result: Grenoble won 32-11
Kick-off: 20:45 local (19:45 GMT)
Referee: Mathieu Raynal


Toulon v Bordeaux-Bègles
Stade Félix Mayol, Toulon

Four Australian World Cup final starters could have featured in Sunday’s clash at Mayol, but as it is, only Matt Giteau will be available.

His Toulon teammate Drew Mitchell is done for the year, while shoulder problems have ruled out Bordeaux duo Adam Ashley-Cooper and the departing Sekope Kepu.

The Bordeaux absences may leave bigger holes, and with their top six hopes hanging by a thread, that only makes the task harder.

Bordeaux kept themselves alive last week with victory over Brive, while Toulon come into the game off the back of a frustrating loss at Montpellier.

One man who was hoping to make his comeback in this game was Leigh Halfpenny, but despite training with the team, the Welshman misses out on the squad and will head into the play-offs in need of game time.

But for what could be Bernard Laporte’s last home game, the three-time European champions will expect to go out with a bang.

Last year’s result: Toulon won 18-13
Kick-off: 20:45 local (19:45 GMT)
Referee: Cédric Marchat


Racing 92 v Montpellier
Stade Yves du Manoir, Colombes

Probably the pick of the round in terms of importance, enemy number one Jake White travels to take on Champions Cup finalists Racing 92 with his Montpellier team.

The South African coach feels he has been getting a raw deal in the press given the success of his Montpellier side, who could finish top of the pile with a win in Colombes and some help from La Rochelle.

The banishing of François Trinh-Duc is the main reason, although the potential release of FTD for France’s summer tour should win a few friends.

Meanwhile a titanic tussle is expected on Sunday with Racing knowing a win could give them a semi-final berth, but defeat might cost them a home barrage.

Last time out the youngsters shone, with half-back duo Xavier Chauveau and Maxime Javaux showing promising signs for the future.

There will be more experience involved this weekend, but there is certainly a contrast in mindsets when it comes to trusting young French talent at the two clubs.

Last year’s result: The teams drew 24-24
Kick-off: 20:45 local (19:45 GMT)
Referee: Salem Attalah


Brive v Pau
Stade Amédée Domenech, Brive

Brive saw their slim Champions Cup hopes ended at Bordeaux-Bègles last time out and they now welcome Pau for the final game of the season.

Simon Mannix and his team gave Damien Traille and Jean Bouilhou the perfect home send-off last week against Grenoble, and those two will bow out for good this weekend.

Contrasting fortunes saw Traille win 85 caps, go to three World Cups, win two Grand Slams and a couple of French titles.

Bouilhou never got the same international recognition, winning just two caps, but did manage four French titles and a further three European Cups during a 14-year spell at Toulouse.

They will both be sorely missed in the Béarn next season.

Previous result: Brive won 30-10 in 2013 in Pro D2
Kick-off: 20:45 local (19:45 GMT)
Referee: Sébastien Minery


Agen v Oyonnax
Stade Armandie, Agen

The relegated teams played out an absolute thriller back in March which looked like it might give Oyonnax the chance of beating the drop.

As it was, a thumping loss to Stade Français put paid to that and both teams are preparing for life in the second flight.

Oyonnax look better prepared to make an immediate return, with a number of impressive signings, but Agen will condemn them to bottom spot with a victory on home soil on Sunday.

Previous result: Agen won 23-11 in 2010 in Pro D2
Kick-off: 20:45 local (19:45 GMT)
Referee: Pascal Gauzère


Clermont v La Rochelle
Stade Marcel Michelin, Clermont-Ferrand

Sunday’s game will be a last in Clermont colours at the Michelin for Brock James, as he goes up against his future club.

The Australian fly-half has embodied Les Jaunards over the last decade, helping them to produce some of the best rugby in Europe while also occasionally struggling in the big games.

With that said, he is still among the best playmakers in France on his day, and will be a valuable addition in La Rochelle next year.

Before that he will hope to add a second Bouclier de Brennus, and after injury ruined his end of season last year, he deserves better luck in his final days in Clermont.

Last year’s result: Clermont won 30-10
Kick-off: 20:45 local (19:45 GMT)
Referee: Maxime Chalon


Castres v Stade Français
Stade Pierre Antoine, Castres

The champions end a miserable season away to Castres, and the likelihood is that pain will only get worse.

Christophe Urios’ side left it late last week to beat Oyonnax, but now have their fate in their own hands.

A win over the Parisians all but guarantees them a play-off spot and a chance to upset one of the big boys.

Stade just sneaked past Agen last week, and already look to be on their holidays, so anything other than a home win would constitute a real shock.

Last year’s result: Stade Français won 25-22
Kick-off: 20:45 local (19:45 GMT)
Referee: Tual Trainini

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