Top 14 Preview: Round Eight

Date published: November 6 2015

The Top 14 kicks off on Saturday with a huge game at Mayol, as Toulon look to get their season back on track against high-flying Montpellier.

There are some other big clashes with league leaders Clermont travelling to champions Stade Français in a repeat of last year's final on Sunday.

Toulouse will look to build on their win at Montpellier, but face in-form Grenoble, who won at Ernest Wallon last year.

Castres face a tough challenge against second-placed Racing 92, also on Sunday, while there is a huge relegation clash between promoted duo Pau and Agen.

Towards the bottom there's an equally important game between La Rochelle and Oyonnax, with the final game seeing Bordeaux-Bègles travel to Brive.

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

Toulon v Montpellier
Stade Félix Mayol, Toulon

Mourad Boudjellal this week said he would leave Toulon if they didn't make the top six this season, and while that seems unlikely, a loss at home to Montpellier would put them in a more precarious position.

Jake White's team had been riding high but were brought down to earth with a bump last week when they lost at home to Toulouse.

Toulon meanwhile are welcoming back some of their World Cup stars, including new arrival Quade Cooper, who is expected to make his debut at fly-half.

Ma'a Nonu isn't yet back after helping New Zealand to World Cup victory, while Paul O'Connell could miss the entire season because of injury.

For Montpellier, Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis are now available after the World Cup, but they will be more concerned over the fitness of François Trinh-Duc, who was sorely missed last time out.

Still, five wins from seven is a good start to the season, and another at Mayol would put them in great shape to reach the play-offs.

Toulon: 15 Delon Armitage, 14 Josua Tuisova, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 Lachlan Turner, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Jonathan Pelissie, 8 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, 7 Steffon Armitage, 6 Juan Smith, 5 Romain Taofifenua, 4 Samuela Manoa, 3 Matthew Stevens, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Xavier Chiocci. 
Replacements: 16 Anthony Etrillard, 17 Florian Fresia, 18 Konstantine Mikautadze, 19 Mamuka Gorgodze, 20 Theo Belan, 21 Tom Taylor, 22 Sebastien Tillous-Borde, 23 Levan Chilachava.

Montpellier: 15 Anthony Floch,, 14 Pierre Berard, 13 Andrew Smith, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Julien Malzieu, 10 Ben Lucas, 9 Cameron Wright, 8 Ben Mowen, 7 Willem du Plessis, 6 Willem Liebenberg, 5 Sitaleki Timani, 4 Tom Donnelly, 3 Patric Cilliers, 2 Mickael Ivaldi, 1 Bees Roux. 
Replacements: 16 Thomas Sauveterre, 17 Oleg Ishchenko, 18 Julien Delannoy, 19 Kelian Galletier, 20 Ilian Perraux, 21 Anthony Tuitavake, 22 Jesse Mogg, 23 Jacobus Adriaanse,

Last year's result: Toulon won 40-17

Kick-off: 14:45 local (13:45 GMT)
Referee: Juan Sylvestre

La Rochelle v Oyonnax
Stade Marcel Deflandre, La Rochelle

It was a case of so near and yet so far for La Rochelle last week, who led going into the last ten minutes at Bordeaux, only for Lionel Beauxis to take the game away from them.

As a result there is a clear gap opening up between the eighth-placed team in the league and the bottom six.

While neither La Rochelle, nor Oyonnax, are currently in the bottom two, both know that any slip-ups could prove costly ahead of the end of the season.

Oyonnax were convincing at home to Pau last week, but are still looking for a first point on the road this year.

Overall La Rochelle have been more convincing this year, but this is the sort of game they simply have to win if they are to avoid getting into a relegation battle.

La Rochelle: 15 Benjamin Lapeyre, 14 Gabriel Lacroix, 13 Pierre Aguillon, 12 Levani Botia, 11 Alexander Northam, 10 Zack Holmes, 9 Enrico Januarie, 8 Kevin Gourdon, 7 Afaesetiti Amosa, 6 Romain Sazy, 5 Romana Graham, 4 Jason Eaton, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Maxime Gau, 1 Vincent Pelo, 
Replacements: 16 Benjamin Geledan, 17 Thomas Synaeghel, 18 Leandro Cedaro, 19 Damien Lagrange, 20 Julien Audy, 21 Fabien Fortassin, 22 Charles Bouldoire, 23 Lekso Kaulashvili,

 Oyonnax: 15 Florian Denos, 14 Daniel Ikpefan, 13 Vincent Martin, 12 Eamonn Sheridan, 11 Alaska Taufa, 10 Nick Robinson, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Viliami Maafu, 7 Olivier Missoup, 6 Valentin Ursache, 5 Fabrice Metz, 4 George Robson, 3 Marc Clerc, 2 Jody
Jenneker, 1 Stanley Wright. 
Replacements: 16 Jeremie Maurouard, 17 Soane Tonga'uiha 18 Leon Power, 19 Pedrie Wannenburg, 20 Fabien Cibray, 21 Regis Lespinas, 22 Pierrick Gunther, 23 Horatiu Pungea.

Last year's result: La Rochelle won 35-20
Kick-off: 18:30 local (17:30 GMT)
Referee: Mathieu Raynal

Pau v Agen
Stade du Hameau, Pau

The battle of the promoted sides has huge consequences, with the pair currently bottom and second bottom in the league.

Pau were hammered at Oyonnax last week, while Agen picked up an important win at Stade Français.

So far Pau have underwhelmed somewhat, after an ambitious off-season, and look more like Lyon last year than the likes of Toulon and Racing when they were promoted with big money.

They have a pair of World Cup winners on the way in Conrad Smith and Colin Slade, but they won't be available this weekend.

Still, at home Pau have generally been strong, until they lost to Brive a fortnight ago. That was a real blow for them, and showed that they will probably battling relegation this season.

Agen have been better than their record suggested, but Pau will see this as a game they should win.

Pau: 15 Damien Traille, 14 Sereli Bobo, 13 Julien Fumat, 12 Santiago Fernandez, 11 Mosese Ratuvou, 10 Brandon Fajardo, 9 Samuel Marques, 8 Patrick Butler, 7 Jean Bouilhou, 6 Loic Bernad, 5 Daniel Ramsay, 4 Julien Pierre, 3 Sylvain Charlet, 2 Thomas Bianchin, 1 Jeremy Hurou. 
Replacements: 16 Quentin Lespiaucq, 17 Julien Jacquot, 18 Claude Dry, 19 Josefa Domolailai, 20 Sean Dougall, 21 Thibault Daubagna, 22 Charly Malie, 23 Chris King.

Agen: 15 Benoit Sicart, 14 Tamaz Mchedlidze, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Eroni Narumasa, 11 George Tilsley, 10 Burton Francis, 9 Alexi Bales, 8 Marc Giraud, 7 Antoine Erbani, 6 Luke Hamilton, 5 William Demotte, 4 Apisalome Ratuniyarawa, 3 Arthur Joly, 2 Mike Tadjer, 1 Viliamu Afatia. 
Replacements: 16 Marc Barthomeuf, 17 David Ryan, 18 Corentin Braendlin, 19 Remi Vaquin, 20 Clement Darbo, 21 Bautista Guemes, 22 Ilaitia Tagotago, 23 Nicolas Chocou.

Last year's result: Pau won 26-21
Kick-off: 18:30 local (17:30 GMT)
Referee: Salem Attalah

Brive v Bordeaux-Bègles
Stade Amédée Domenech, Brive

Bordeaux have moved into the play-off places with three wins on the spin, but aren't playing the free-flowing rugby they were a year ago.

A trip to Brive seems an unlikely place for them to rediscover their try-scoring form, but their more pragmatic style might help them end a poor recent record at Amédée Domenech.

Having said that, Brive come into the game in reasonable form, and were unfortunate not to pick up a win at Racing last week, having led 14-0 at one point.

This will be Bordeaux's final game before they kick off their Champions Cup campaign, and it will be good to see if they can get their attacking game going again.

The loss of backs coach Vincent Etcheto might have played a part in that, and even if the results are still coming, it would be a shame if Bordeaux's flair were gone for good.

This will likely come down to the battle up front though, as it so often does at Brive. In that sector, Brive will fancy their chances, knowing that a win would probably propel them back into the play-off places.

Brive: 15 Gaetan Germain, 14 Alfi Mafi, 13 Arnaud Mignardi, 12 Sevanaia Galala, 11 Guillaume Namy, 10 Matthieu Ugalde, 9 Teddy Iribaren, 8 Sisa Koyamaibole, 7 Dominiko Waqaniburotu, 6 Petrus Hauman, 5 Peet Marais, 4 Johan Snyman, 3 Kevin Buys, 2 Guillaume Ribes, 1 Lucas Pointud. 
Replacements: 16 Francois Da Ros, 17 Karlen Asieshvili, 18 Wilhem Steenkamp, 19 Arnaud Mela, 20 Fabien Sanconnie, 21 Jean baptiste Pejoine, 22 Thomas Laranjeira, 23 Damien Jourdain.

Bordeaux-Bègles: 15 Jean Marcellin Buttin 14 Metuisela Talebula, 13 Felix le Bourhis, 12 Manu Ahotaeiloa, 11 Blair Connor, 10 Lionel Beauxis, 9 Heini Adams, 8 Loann Goujon, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Peter Saili, 5 Jandre Marais, 4 Julien Ledevedec, 3 Albert Toetu, 2 Clement Maynadier, 1 Sebastien Taofifenua. 
Replacements: 16 Benat Auzqui, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Adam Jaulhac, 19 Louis Madaule, 20 Baptiste Serin, 21 Charles Brousse, 22 Sofiane Guitoune, 23 Jean Batiste Poux.

Last year's result: Brive won 34-24

Kick-off: 18:30 local (17:30 GMT)
Referee: Adrien Descottes

Toulouse v Grenoble
Stade Ernest Wallon, Toulouse

Revenge will be in the air at Ernest Wallon as Toulouse try to put last year's home defeat to Grenoble behind them.

Fabrice Landreau's men come into the game in fine form, having won at Castres before downing Toulon at home last week.

Winning at Toulouse would be another step up, but they managed it last year thanks to the boot of Jonathan Wisniewski.

This Toulouse team look to be in better shape though. They performed up front at Montpellier, dominating in the set-piece, and that gave the backs the platform to really fire.

Vincent Clerc is back to close to his best form, having looked past it last season, while a number of young players are doing a good job of putting their hands up to new France coach Guy Novès.

Sébastien Bézy and Yacouba Camara are particulary in-form, and should be in with a great shout of making their international debuts if they maintain their current dynamic.

This will also be Toulouse's first game since the announcement that Louis Picamoles is off next season. He will need to continue to perform but he will likely be keen to bow out with some silverware. A win over Grenoble would help in that quest.

Toulouse: 15 Maxime Medard, 14 Vincent Clerc, 13 Yann David, 12 Gael Fickou, 11 Timoci Matanavou, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Sebastien Bezy, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Imanol Harinordoquy, 6 Thierry Dusautoir, 5 Iosefa Tekori, 4 Yoann Maestri, 3 Dorian Aldegheri, 2 Christopher Tolofua, 1 Vasil Kakovin. 
Replacements: 16 Julien Marchand, 17 Gert Muller, 18 Edwin Maka, 19 Romain Millo Chlusky, 20 Yacouba Camara, 21 Jean Marc Doussain, 22 Clement Poitrenaud, 23 Nemiah Tialata.

Grenoble: 15 Fabrice Estebanez, 14 Maritino Nemani, 13 Jackson Willison, 12 Nigel Hunt, 11 Lucas Dupont, 10 Gilles Bosch, 9 James Hart, 8 Steven Setephano, 7 Jonathan Best, 6 Peter Kimlin, 5 James Percival, 4 Benjamin Hand 3 Rossouw De klerk, 2 Laurent Bouchet, 1 Denis Coulson. 
Replacements: 16 Arnaud Heguy, 17 Fabien Barcella, 18 Hendrik Roodt, 19 Rory Grice, 20 Charl Mcleod, 21 Chris Farrell, 22 Daniel Kilioni, 23 Dayna Edwards.

Last year's result: Grenoble won 25-22
Kick-off: 20:45 local (19:45 GMT)
Referee: Rasta Rashivenge

Castres v Racing 92
Stade Pierre Antoine, Castres

A promising season is in the process of falling apart for Castres, who have lost all three games since the month break during the World Cup.

Having gone down at Stade Français and then at home to Grenoble, they were hammered at Clermont last weekend.

It doesn't get much easier this week, with Racing, who have quietly won six games out of seven, in town.

That record is a little deceptive, with underwhelming home wins over both La Rochelle and Brive, but still, it's enough to leave Racing in second.

Their strength has clearly been in defence, with only Toulouse have conceded fewer points this season, but they might need to score a few more to win at Castres.

Last year they won this fixture, as Castres battled relegation, but this season things were meant to be different.

Christophe Urios has had to deal with a number of serious injuries including new signings Benjamin Urdapilleta and Antoine Tichit.

They will still expect to win this game, but a loss would leave them without a mountain to climb to reach the play-offs.

Team lineups to follow…

Last year's result: Racing won 14-9
Kick-off: 12:15 local (11:15 GMT)
Referee: Romain Poite

Stade Français v Clermont
Stade Jean Bouin, Paris

A repeat of last June's Top 14 final, but the two clubs find themselves in very different positions at the moment.

Clermont had to regroup after their second final defeat of the season, but have done so in fine style, and currently lead the league with five wins and a draw from seven games.

Stade, by contrast, have endured a horrific start to their campaign, and currently are only out of the relegation spots on head-to-head record.

While they aren't really in danger of going down, their play-off ambitions have received a serious dent, and a second home defeat of the campaign would put them in real trouble.

Thankfully for Gonzalo Quesada, two of his highest-profile acquisitions, arrived this week, and Will Genia and Willem Alberts should make a real impact for the club.

Whether that will be enough against Clermont is another matter, and they bounced back well from a loss to Montpellier to hammer Castres.

Nick Abendanon and David Strettle have impressed for Clermont, as has new back row signing Camille Gérondeau.

While they have lost Hosea Gear to injury for a couple of months, the depth is there for Clermont to push for another win before they kick off their European campaign.

Team lineups to follow….

Last year's result: Stade won 40-26
Kick-off: 16:15 local (15:15 GMT)
Referee: Tual Trainini