Planet Rugby

Top 14 Preview: Round 17

10th February 2012 10:57

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Paul Warwick Stade Francais Bayonne

Battle in the Basque country: Stade Français visit Bayonne

There are a handful of massive clashes in the Top 14 this weekend as struggling Biarritz host leaders Toulouse while Racing have the unenviable task of visiting Clermont.

Racing have been in the headlines this week as players revolt against manager Pierre Berbizier and would probably welcome their clash with les Jaunards being postponed. For the moment it's still on, unlike two other games as the cold snap strikes again: Agen v Castres and Lyon v Brive have fallen foul of frozen pitches.

Under-pressure Perpignan get the ball rolling when the travel to in-form Montpellier on Friday.

No less than five teams are embroiled in a tussle to avoid relegation with Bayonne at the pack of the peleton. The Basques host Stade Français in a must-win encounter.

Elsewhere, third-placed Toulon will looking to close their 15-point deficit on the leaders at home to Bordeaux-Bègles.

Fixtures:

Friday, February 10
Montpellier v Perpignan
Biarritz v Toulouse

Saturday, February 11
Bayonne v Stade Français
Toulon v Bordeaux-Bègles
Clermont v Racing Métro
Postponed: Agen v Castres ; Lyon v Brive

Rugby Union betting odds

Standings:

1. Toulouse 60
2. Clermont 54
3. Toulon 45
4. Castres 44
5. Montpellier 40
6. Stade Français 39
7. Racing Metro 37
8. Agen 36
9. Bordeaux-Begles 36
10. Brive 28
11. Perpignan 27
12. Lyon 24
13. Biarritz 24
14. Bayonne 23


Previews:

Montpellier HR v USA Perpignan
Stade Yves Du Manoir, Montpellier

Perpignan travel East for a Mediterranean derby under massive pressure.

USAP continue to flirt with relegation and could drop into the red zone this weekend if results in the Basque country do not favour the Catalans.

Montpellier have won six of their last seven league matches while Perpignan have tasted success just once in their last eleven outings.

Without a win in three games, the Catalans will be happy with a repeat of last season's 12-all draw at Stade Yves Du Manoir.

The hosts have been in excellent form of late, as illustrated by their demolition of Stade Français a fortnight ago.

Both sides will be without their first-choice fly-halves, with Francois Trinh-Duc and James Hook on Six Nations duty but the hosts have a quality replacement in Argentine Santiago Fernandez.

Perpignan are also without veteran Bleus prop Nicolas Mas. Lock Olivier Olibeau - who starts - has announced his retirement at the end of the season.

Perpigan: Porical, Sid, Marty, R.Coetzee, Planté, Hume, Boulogne, J.-P.Pérez, H.Tuilagi, Le Corvec, Tchale Watchou, Olibeau, Thiart, Géli, Freshwater
Replacements: Guirado, Schuster, Britz, R.Taofifenua, Mélé, Michel, Guiry, Pulu

Montpellier: Amorosino, Nagusa, Combezou, P.Bosch, Bustos Moyano, S.Fernandez, J.Tomas, Gorgodze, Tulou, Ouedraogo, Privat, Hancke, Bustos, Creevy, Figallo
Replacements: Van Vuuren, Leleimalefaga, Fakate, Martin, Paillague, G.Doumayrou, Audrin, Jgenti

Previous result Perpignan won 19-12 at home.
Prediction: Montpol are flying at the moment. Montpellier by twelve points
Kick-off: 19.00 (18.00 GMT)
Referee: Sébastien Cloute


Biarritz Olympique v Stade Toulousain
Parc des Sports d'Aguilera, Biarritz

This should be a classic between France's two most successful clubs since the turn or the century: Both have claimed three titles since 2000.

Runaway leaders Toulouse have not lost a Top 14 game since mid-October and seem to already have a semi-final berth sewn up.

Les Toulousains have sent eight regular starters to the French national side yet are still able to put out a XV featuring 12 internationals with five more on the bench.

Young hooker Christopher Tolofua has made a huge impression so far, winning the Man of the Match award against Racing Metro. He starts, as does World Cup finalist Jean-Marc Doussain, who is at fly-half with Luke McAlister at inside centre.

Biarritz, by contrast, are back in the relegation zone and are set to struggle without their two key players: Imanol Harinordoquy and Dimitri Yachvili. French international loose forward Wenceslas Lauret has also been ruled out with a calf injury.

The stats tell a tale of woe for the Basques: While Toulouse have score 37 tries this season (more the anyone else) BO have touched down just 12 times.

Biarritz: Balshaw, Ngwenya, M.Bosch, Traille (cap), Baby, Peyrelongue, Lesgourgues, Carizza, R.Lakafia, Guyot, Taele, Thion, Marconnet, Héguy, Watremez.
Replacements:August, Gomez Kodela, Faure, Roidot (ou Gray), Bolakoro, Burotu, Haylett-Petty, Barcella

Toulouse: Poitrenaud, Matanavou, David, McAlister, Donguy, Doussain, Burgess, Nyanga, Galan, Bouilhou, Albacete, Lamboley, Johnston, Tolofua, Human.
Replacements:Bregvadze, Steenkamp, Boukerou, Nicolas, Vergallo, Jauzion, Fritz, Montès

Previous result: Toulouse won 24-0 at home
Prediction: It's rare that we predict a Biarritz loss at home, but Toulouse look unstoppable. Toulouse by nine points
Kick-off: 21.00 (20.00 GMT)
Referee: Patrick Pechambert


Aviron Bayonnais v Stade Français Paris
Stade Jean Dauger, Bayonne

Things continue to go wrong for Bayonne, who will be without suspended international winger Yoann Huget and former All Black loose forward Sione Lauaki, who is suffering from a kidney disorder.

Winless in six games, the Basques have no choice but to react as they try to climb out of the relegation zone. They trail Brive, who lie tenth, by just five points so there is still plenty to play for.

The hosts have not won at home since November but will also fancy their chances against a Parisian side that has travelled terribly this season. Michael Cheika's team have lost seven of their eight away games and conceded more than 30 points in five of them. They have the league's worst defensive record.

If Stade Français hope to make the play-offs, that's a stat they will have to fix although it will be tough this weekend as they make do without six players on international duty.

Previous result: Stade Français won 33-11 at home
Prediction: Considering the Parisians record on the road, we'll back the hosts. Bayonne to edge it
Kick-off: 14.00 (13.00 GMT)
Referee: Franck Maciello


RC Toulon v Union Bordeaux-Bègles
Stade Felix Mayol, Toulon

Bordeaux-Bègles have made a mockery of all the pre-season predictions and look set to avoid the drop back to the ProD2 quite comfortably. In fact, they sit just three points short of the play-off spots.

That said, it's unlikely they'll have the measure of a Toulon side chasing the leading duo. In rampant form after lashing Bayonne by 50 points, Toulon also boast the championship's third best defensive record.

Toulon have won nine straight games (in all competitions) at Stade Felix Mayol, where UBB have never won in four attempts.

Previous result: Toulon won 27-16 in Bègles
Prediction: Unaffected by international call ups, Toulon should win easily. Toulon by fifteen points
Kick-off: 14.00 (13.00 GMT)
Referee: Salem Attalah


ASM Clermont Auvergne v Racing-Métro 92
Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin, Clermont Ferrand

Clermont-Ferrand is the very last place Racing would want to visit this weekend as internal turmoil threatens to derail an already below-par season.

With the players reportedly calling for Pierre Berbizier's head, it's hard to see the Franciliens produce a coherent performance this weekend.

The hosts have not lost at home since November 2009 but with just one win from their last four starts, Racing need to take something back to the capital or risk falling off the pace in the race for the play-offs.

Clermont are missing eight internationals but, like Toulouse, have plenty of quality in depth.

Previous result: Clermont won 22-11 in Paris
Prediction: Never bet against Clermont at home. Clermont by ten points
Kick-off: 14.30 (13.30 GMT)
Referee: Jean-Luc Rebollal

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