Top 14 Preview: Round Four

Date published: September 11 2015

The Top 14 heads into round four before a break for the World Cup, so this weekend marks a final chance to get some points on the board.

Toulon kick things off at home to La Rochelle after an eventful week, before three big games on Saturday evening.

Racing 92 will hope to avoid successive defeats, hosting in-form Grenoble, while city rivals Stade Français travel to Montpellier.

Table toppers Clermont aim for a fourth straight bonus-point win at home to Bordeaux-Bègles, and Sunday's opener sees Agen travel to Brive.

Finally unbeaten Toulouse travel to promoted Pau to end the weekend's action, with more than a month before the next round of games.


Castres v Oyonnax

Toulon v La Rochelle
Racing 92 v Grenoble
Montpellier v Stade Français
Clermont v Bordeaux-Bègles

Brive v Agen
Pau v Toulouse

Toulon v La Rochelle
Stade Mayol, Toulon

It's been a hectic week in Toulon, starting with last Sunday's crucial win in the darkness away at Stade Français.

That lifted the European champions from bottom spot in the table, but on Tuesday it all kicked off again with a report that the club was being investigated by the French anti-doping agency.

That has been strenuously denied, with subsequent reports indicating that the investigation was into a social security scam by a local pharmacist who had worked with the club.

Mourad Boudjellal took the news in his own unique way, posting a photo with Toulon's trophies, recreating a famous image of Lance Armstrong.

It's difficult to say whether that was a wise course of action, but it does mean that the preparation for the clash with La Rochelle has very much taken a back seat.

Les Rochelais picked up their first win of the season a week ago, hanging on at home to Brive, but having conceded 60 points at Mayol last season, it's hard to see them making it two in a row.

The teams:

Toulon: 15 Delon Armitage, 14 Josua Tuisova, 13 Theo Belan, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 Lachie Turner, 10 Willie du Plessis, 9 Jonathan Pélissié, 8 Steffon Armitage, 7 Gerhard Vosloo, 6 Juan Smith, 5 Romain Taofifenua, 4 Thibault Lassalle, 3 Matt Stevens, 2 Anthony Etrillard. 1 Xavier Chiocci.
Replacements: 16 Jean Charles Orioli, 17 Alexandre Menini, 18 Jocelino Suta, 19 Charles Ollivon, 20 Sireli Bobo, 21 UJ Seuteni, 22 Eric Escande, 23 Mohamed boughanmi.

La Rochelle: 15 Benjamin Lapeyre, 14 Gabriel Lacroix, 13 Jean-Pascal Barraque, 12 Pierre Aguillon, 11 François Herry, 10 Zack Holmes, 9 Julien Audy, 8 Kevin Gourdon, 7 Zeno Kieft, 6 Romain Sazy, 5 Jone Qovu, 4 Romana Graham, 3 Lekso Kaulashvili, 2 Hikairo Forbes, 1 Vincent Pelo.
Replacements: 16 David Roumieu, 17 Jordan Seneca, 18 Damien Lagrange, 19 Mathieu Tangu, 20 Enrico Januarie, 21 Fabien Fortassin, 22 Charles Bouldoire, 23 Maxime Gau

Last year's result: Toulon won 60-19
Kick-off: 14:45 local (12:45 GMT)
Referee: Cyril Lafon

Racing 92 v Grenoble
Stade Yves du Manoir, Colombes

With the fewest World Cup absences, Grenoble were always likely to make a good start to the season, and they've done just that to sit third after three games.

Racing produced arguably the most impressive performance of the opening round with a win at Toulon, but have since scraped past La Rochelle at home before being well-beaten at Agen.

While they are still well-placed after three rounds of games, a home clash with Grenoble looks like a dangerous proposition.

Fabrice Landreau's side have shown a tendency in recent seasons to start strongly before fading in the second half of the season, and after winning at Racing two seasons ago, came desperately close to repeating last year.

In fact their record in the French capital is a good one, having also won at Stade Français last year, and they will have no fear going to Colombes.

Racing president Jacky Lorenzetti had strong words with his team after the loss at Agen, but that might not be enough to avoid a slip-up this weekend.

The teams:

Racing 92: 15 Sean Robinson, 14 Joe Rokocoko, 13 Etienne Dussartre, 12 Henry Chavancy, 11 Marc Andreu, 10 Benjamin Dambielle, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Chris Masoe, 7 Thibault Dubarry, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Francois van der Merwe, 4 Manuel Carizza, 3 Luc Ducalcon, 2 Camille Chat, 1 Davit Khinchagishvili.
Replacements: 16 Armand van der Merwe. 17 Julien Brugnaut 18 Juandre Kruger 19 Antonie Claassen 20 Xavier Chauveau 21 Casey Laulala 22 Luc Barba 23 Cedate Gomes sa

Grenoble: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Xavier Mignot, 13 Fabrice Estebanez, 12 Nigel Hunt, 11 Armand Batlle, 10 Jonathan Wisniewski, 9 Charl Mcleod, 8 Rory Grice, 7 Jonathan Best, 6 Steven Setephano, 5 Hendrik Roodt, 4 Benjamin Hand, 3 Dayna Edwards, 2 Arnaud Heguy, 1 Denis Coulson
Replacements: 16 Anthony Hegarty, 17 Rossouw De klerk, 18 Mathias Marie, 19 Peter Kimlin, 20 Christophe Loustalot, 21 Fabien Gengenbacher, 22 Chris Farrell, 23 Walter Desmaison

Last year's result: Racing won 34-29
Kick-off: 18:30 local (16:30 GMT)
Referee: Salem Attalah

Montpellier v Stade Français
Altrad Stadium, Montpellier

Last Sunday saw two away wins, with Montpellier edging to victory at Bordeaux, before Stade went down at home to Toulon.

Jules Plisson was some way from his best for the champions, and will need to turn things around against another of France's forgotten fly-halves, François Trinh-Duc.

Beyond the battle of the fly-halves, this should be about the packs, with Montpellier impressive in victory last time out.

Stade were better than during their loss to Brive, but it still wasn't enough to see off Toulon, and their inexperienced front five could be in for a tough encounter.

Fall to another defeat, and the champions will find themselves well off the pace by the time their big guns return.

The teams:

Montpellier: 15 Anthony Floch, 14 Benjamin Fall, 13 Timoci Nagusa, 12 Andrew Smith, 11 Marvin O'Connor, 10 Francois Trinh-Duc, 9 Benoit Paillaugue, 8 Kelian Galletier, 7 Ben Mowen, 6 Sitaleki Timani, 5 Paul Willemse, 4 Robins Tchale Watchou, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Mickael Ivaldi, 1 Yvan Watremez.
Replacements: 16 Charles Geli, 17 Schalk Van der Merwe, 18 Antoine Battut, 19 Willem Liebenberg, 20 Nic White, 21 Ben Lucas, 22 Julien Malzieu, 23 Jacobus Adriaanse,

Stade Français: 15 Djibril Camara, 14 Hugo Bonneval, 13 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 12 Paul Williams, 11 Jeremy Sinzelle, 10 Jules Plisson, 9 Julien Dupuy, 8 Jono Ross, 7 Matthieu Ugena, 6 Sylvain Nicolas, 5 Tomas Vallejos, 4 Paul Gabrillagues, 3 Paul Alo emile, 2 Remi Bonfils, 1 Heinke Van der Merwe. 
Replacements: 16 Laurent Panis, 17 Dany Priso mouangue, 18 Gerhard Mostert, 19 Patrick laurence Sio, 20 Julien Tomas, 21 Meyer Bosman, 22 Jonathan Danty, 23 Giorgi Melikidze.

Last year's result: Montpellier won 23-3
Kick-off: 18:30 local (16:30 GMT)
Referee: Maxime Chalon

Clermont v Bordeaux-Bègles
Stade Marcel Michelin, Clermont-Ferrand

The stand-out team in the league so far, Clermont have picked up a maximum 15 points from 15 to kick off the season.

Bordeaux, by contrast, have just one hard-fought win over Castres to their name, and went down at home to Montpellier last time out.

With the game being played at Clermont, this seems like a mismatch, as Franck Azéma's side just look too well-oiled.

After outplaying Oyonnax for most of last week's game, they got sloppy and conceded two tries in the last ten minutes to seemingly throw away a bonus point.

Instead, they stepped things up in the final play of the game, and Paul Jedrasiak, the form player in the league, sparked a try for debutant Alivereti Raka.

The young Fijian looks to be the next big thing off the Clermont production line, and their ability to bring through players from the academy is second to none.

Bordeaux have a couple of promising youngsters of their own, not least number eight Marco Tauleigne. However the absence of Metuisela Talebula and Blair Connor is really hurting them, and their play-off hopes may rest on a strong second half of the season after losing ground early.

The teams:

Clermont: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 David Strettle, 13 Aurelien Rougerie, 12 Hosea Gear, 11 Adrien Plante, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Enzo Sanga, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Julien Bardy, 6 Camille Gerondeau, 5 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 4 Paul Jedrasiak, 3 Daniel Kotze, 2 Marthinus van der Westhuizen, 1 Thomas Domingo.
Replacements: 16 Iuri Natriashvili, 17 Raphael Chaume, 18 Arthur Iturria, 19 Alexandre Lapandry, 20 Jeanbaptiste Bruzulier, 21 Patricio Fernandez fiant, 22 Albert Vulivuli, 23 Clement Ric,

Bordeaux-Bègles: 15 Jean-Marcellin Buttin, 14 Jean Baptiste Dubie, 13 Felix Le Bourhis, 12 Julien Rey, 11 Nans Ducuing, 10 Baptiste Serin, 9 Heini Adams, 8 Marco Tauleigne, 7 Peter Saili, 6 Louis benoit Madaule, 5 Berend Botha, 4 Julien Ledevedec, 3 Francisco Gomez Kodela, 2 Benat Auzqui, 1 Jefferson Poirot. 
Replacements: 16 Clement Maynadier, 17 Jean Baptiste Poux, 18 Adam Jaulhac, 19 Loann Goujon, 20 Hugh Chalmers, 21 Pierre Bernard, 22 Charles Brousse, 23 Albert Toetu.

Last year's result: Clermont won 31-23
Kick-off: 18:30 local (16:30 GMT)
Referee: Thomas Charabas

Brive v Agen
Stade Amédée Domenech, Brive

Two of the more surprising teams this season face off at Amédée Domenech, and while they only have a win apiece, they can be pleased with their starts.

Brive almost managed a rare away win at La Rochelle last week, following on from their comfortable success at home to Stade.

Meanwhile Agen bounced back from defeat to Toulouse with a success over Racing, and have been competitive in every game so far.

Their scrum is a concern, but was much-improved against the Parisians, and it will need to be again at Brive.

Still, Agen's strength is more in their backs and a dynamic back-row, and they will look to move Brive around.

If it's a tight game, the set-piece battle will be even more important, and at Amédée Domenech, it's hard to see Brive lose that battle.

The teams:

Brive: tbc

Agen: tbc

Previous result: Agen won 20-19 in 2011
Kick-off: 12:30 local (10:30 GMT)
Referee: Laurent Cardona

Pau v Toulouse
Stade du Hameau, Pau

The Ugo Mola reign has started with three wins from as many games, and yet Toulouse still look like a work in progress.

Last week's win over Castres was their most impressive display to date, but with better finishing they would have been out of sight, rather than missing out on a bonus point.

Pau, on the other hand, were comfortably beaten at Grenoble, and look like a team who will be much stronger on home soil.

Their last game at the Stade du Hameau saw them take advantage of Montpellier's indiscipline, and they may well look to employ the same tactics once more.

The clash will also be an intriguing reunion for two veteran back-rowers. Imanol Harinordoquy started his career at Pau many years ago, while Jean Bouilhou was a legend at Toulouse during much of their successes in the last decade.

Those two will go head to head in the lineout and at the breakdown, and the winner of their individual battle may decide the final result.

The teams:

Pau: tbc

Toulouse: tbc

Previous result: Toulouse won 27-13 in 2006
Kick-off: 17:00 local (15:00 GMT)
Referee: Adrien Descottes