Planet Rugby

Top 14 Preview: Round 22

21st March 2014 10:03

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Toulouse fullback Maxime Medard v Stade francais

Gala game: Toulouse visit the Stade de France

Toulouse visit the Stade de France on Saturday for the annual gala match against Stade Français with the stakes very high.

With Stade Français resurgent after a few lean years, the shine has returned to what has traditionally been the biggest domestic feature in France.

Elsewhere, third-placed Montpellier travel to Oyonnax, while reigning champions Castres, currently occupying the last of the six play-off berths, are at home to Brive.

Biarritz could be consigned to the drop if, as expected, they lose at Perpignan, while Bordeaux travel to Bayonne in a mid-table matchup.

Fixtures:

Friday, March 21
Clermont v Toulon

Saturday, March 22
Stade Français v Toulouse
Bayonne v Bordeaux-Bègles
Castres v Brive
Oyonnax v Montpellier
Perpignan v Biarritz
Grenoble v Racing Métro

Standings

Previews:

Stade Français v Stade Toulousain
Stade de France, St. Denis (Paris)

Saturday's opening game sees fourth-placed Stade Français host fifth-placed Toulouse with the latter's coach, Guy Novès, saying that he intended to call on his international contingent despite the proximity of the last Six Nations game.

Maxime Medard, Yoann Huget, Gael Fickou, Yoann Maestri and Louis Picamoles all played in the 22-20 loss to Ireland, while Jean-Marc Doussain came on as a substitute.

"Some have already been resting, others have still to have a day off but this weekend there will be no rest," said Novès.

"We're approaching a tricky part of the season. We have two trips against two of the best teams in France (Stade Français and Toulon) at the moment. We're going to be able to gauge our team and players based on these two matches."

Stade assistant coach Jeff Dubois said that Toulouse had battled back to their best and would be a handful to deal with in Paris especially with his side having several players coming back after international duty.

"We saw they (Toulouse) were back to their best when they scored 37 points against Perpignan," he said.

"The have got all their injured players back, especially Luke McAlister, who is a masterly playmaker, and all their internationals. We will be going up against a powerful team with 23 on-form players at their disposal," he added.

The hosts are unbeaten at their usual home ground at Stade Jean Bouin but their record is less impressive in St. Denis, where a lot of the Toulouse players will feel at home.

That said, Toulouse have claimed just one victory on the road this season, and it wasn't one to write home about in Biarritz.

Of the last 15 games between these sides in the capital, Toulouse have won just five.

Result in Round 11: Toulouse won 28-10
Kick-off: 15.00 local (14.00 GMT)
Referee: Patrick Pechambert


Aviron Bayonnais v Union Bordeaux-Bègles
Stade Jean Dauger, Bayonne

Bayonne are still very much embroiled in the relegation battle, sitting just four points clear of the drop zone. The situation is serious considering that Oyonnax - who sit in 13th spot - have a game in hand.

Bordeaux-Bègles - lying one place above their hosts but seven points to the better - have a bit more breathing space, but with just one win away from home this season, they could be dragged back into the fight for survival.

Bayonne have won three of the last four clashes between these sides but are not a sure bet having lost twice at home this term.

Result in Round 11: Bordeaux-Bègles won 34-6
Kick-off: 18:30 local (17:30 GMT)
Referee: Romain Poite


Castres Olympique v CA Brive-Corrèze
Stade Pierre Antoine, Castres

Brive have had an excellent first season back in the top division and lie just four points behind the defending champions, who occupy the last play-off spot.

Hopes of closing that gap look like a long shot though since Brive have yet to win on the road this season and Castres are unbeaten on home soil.

Indeed, Brive have lost on their last nine visits to the Tarn.

Castres are set to be without injured Scotland lock Richie Gray, France full-back Brice Dulin and centre Romain Cabannes. France fly-half Rémi Tales was unable to train at the start of the week but should be fit to play.

Result in Round 11: Brive won 34-0
Kick-off: 18:30 local (17:30 GMT)
Referee: Laurent Cardona


US Oyonnax v Montpellier Hérault Rugby
Stade Charles Mathon, Oyonnax

Currently sitting in the drop zone, Oyonnax cannot afford to drop points on home soil but will back themselves to get the job done having lost just once at home this season - to Stade Français.

Indeed, the smallest club in the Top 14 have claimed the scalps of Clermont, Castres and Toulon!

Third-placed Montpellier will arrive harbouring serious ambitions though in their quest for a home play off.

Montpellier will be without France tighthead Nicolas Mas, who has been ruled out for three weeks with a knee sprain.

Result in Round 11: Montpellier won 45-20
Kick-off: 18:30 local (17:30 GMT)
Referee: Jérôme Garcès


USA Perpignan v Biarritz Olympique
Stade Aimé Giral, Perpignan

Defeat in Catalonia will guarantee Biarritz's relegation but the Basques have promised to keep giving it their all in the hope of finishing the season on a high and retaining some of their players.

For Perpignan, just one place above the relegation zone and just points clear of Oyonnax, defeat is not an option.

The Catalans have three home games in their last five fixtures, including a showdown with Oyonnax, so victory this weekend could pave the way to safety.

USAP have won four of the last five games between these sides.

Result in Round 11: Perpignan won 16-12
Kick-off:18:30 local (17:30 GMT)
Referee: Cyril Lafon


FC Grenoble v Racing Métro 92
Stade des Alpes, Grenoble

Racing-Metro travel to Grenoble's fortress in the Alps, hoping that a win could hoist them into the top six.

It's a vital game for both sides, who are still in the race for the play-offs, though defeat for Grenoble will almost certainly end their hopes of a place in the top six.

Revenge is on the agenda for Racing, after their shock defeat to FCG in Paris earlier this season. But in five visits to Grenoble, the team from the capital have won just once, in the ProD2 back in 2008.

Grenoble have been boosted by the news that Peter Kimlin has signed a three-year contract extension although the former Wallaby has been ruled out of this weekend with a calf injury. Hooker Vincent Campo and playmaker Valentin Courrent are also sidelined while try-scoring ace Alipate Ratini has been dropped.

Result in Round 11: Grenoble won 22-20
Kick-off: 20:35 local (19:35 GMT)
Referee: Christophe Berdos

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