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Top 14 Preview: Round 14

30th December 2011 09:04

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Bakkies Botha Toulon presentation

Bakkies Botha: Set to his Toulon debut

The second half of the Top 14 season kicks off with Springbok lock Bakkies Botha is set to make his Toulon debut in Biarritz.

Round 14 starts in Toulouse were Bayonne face an uphill battle against the defending champions and current league leaders.

Montpellier will have a chance to close the gap on Racing Metro as the Parisians travel south in the battle for European and play-off places.

Elsewhere, Perpignan have a tough trip on their hands as they visit Castres while Stade Français will look to continues their winning streak in Bordeaux.

Team line-ups to follow...

Fixtures:

Friday, December 30
Toulouse vs Bayonne

Saturday, December 31

Montpellier vs Racing-Métro
Castres vs Perpignan
Bordeaux vs Stade Français
Agen vs Brive
Lyon vs Clermont
Biarritz vs Toulon

Standings:

1 Toulouse 47
2 Clermont 44
3 Toulon 39
4 Castres 35
5 Stade Français 34
6 Racing Métro 34
7 Agen 32
8 Montpellier 27
9 Perpignan 25
10 Brive 23
11 Bayonne 22
12 Bordeaux 21*
13 Lyon 18*
14 Biarritz 15
* Game in hand


Previews:

Stade Toulousain v Aviron Bayonnais
Stade Ernest Wallon, Toulouse

It'll be an affair of familiar faces on Friday as new Bayonne boss Jean-Pierre Elissalde visits his son, Toulouse backs coach Jean-Baptiste, and former Toulouse full-back Cédric Heymans returns to Stade Ernest Wallon. Heymans spent 10 years with the club and won all but two of his 59 France caps as a Toulouse player.

"I got married in Toulouse, my children were born there and the club helped me become a man," said Heymans.

Will familiarity breed contempt? Either way, it's unlikely to bring victory for the visitors, who must face a Toulouse side a ruthless mood.

Bayonne won the home leg in Round One when Toulouse failed to cash in on a number of opportunities. Don't expect a repeat since Bayonne have won just once in sixteen away games.

The shock defeat to Harlequins a fortnight ago is the hosts' only loss since mid-October and last week the rouge et noir simply outclassed Montpellier.

Luke McAlister makes a rare start at inside centre as Lionel Beauxis takes over at ten following his kicking masterclass last weekend. Clément Poitrenaud is back in training but not ready to play yet.

Bayonne's expensively assembled squad is slowly finding it's feet and they welcome Neemia Tialata back into the starting XV. The All Black prop was a late withdrawal last weekend because of a troublesome back. He replaces Renaud Boyoud.

Toulouse:15 Maxime Médard, 14 Vincent Clerc, 13 Florian Fritz, 12 Luke McAlister, 11 Yves Donguy, 10 Lionel Beauxis, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Thierry Dusautoir, 6 Jean Bouilhou, 5 Romain Millo Chlusky, 4 Yoann Maestri, 3 Census Johnston, 2 William Servat, 1 Jean-Baptiste Poux
Replacements:16 Jereym Falip, 17 Yassin Boutemane, 18 Gregoyr Lamboley, 19 Sean Sowerby, 20 Jean Marc Doussain, 21 Yannick Jauzion, 22 Timoci Matanavou, 23 Yohan Montes

Bayonne: 15 Cédric Heymans, 14 Joe Rokocoko, 13 Thibault Lacroix, 12 Lionel Mazars, 11 Sam Gerber, 10 Benjamin Boyet, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Sione Lauaki, 7 Julien Puricelli, 6 Jean-Joseph Marmouyet, 5 Abdellatif Boutaty, 4 Rob Linde (captain), 3 Neemia Tialata, 2 David Roumieu, 1 Aretz Iguiniz
Replacements: 16 François Da Ros, 17 Vitolio Manukula, 18 Troy Flavell, 19 Marc Baget, 20 Cédric Garcia, 21 Clément Otazo, 22 Marvin O'Connor, 23 Denis Avril

Previous result: Bayonne won 18-13
Prediction: The Big red Machine at home? There can be only one winner. Toulouse by at least twelve points
Kick-off: 21.00 (20.00 GMT)
Referee:Laurent Cardona


Montpellier HR v Racing-Métro 92
Stade Yves Du Manoir, Montpellier

Seven points behind their visitors on Saturday, Montpellier are in desperate need of a few points to keep in touch with the race for the play-offs.

Last season's finalists were given a lesson by Toulouse last week but will fancy their chanced against a Racing side that has blown hot and cold this term.

After a dip in form, Racing have put together four wins in the last five games in the Top 14 and looked confident in victory over Agen last week. They have a handful of key players filtering back in to the side after injury layoffs, including Fabrice Estebanez.

Previous result: Racing won 30-22
Prediction: It'll be close, but les Montpelliérains are usually a safe bet at home Montpellier by five
Kick-off: 14.05 (13.05 GMT)
Referee: Pascal Gauzere


Castres Olympique v USA Perpignan
Stade Pierre Antoine, Castres

Perpignan were easy winners over Castres in Round One but the two clubs have had contrasting fortunes since.

While Castres briefly held the championship lead, USAP suffered seven consecutive defeats before finally tasting victory against Bordeaux last week.

The Catalans have a good record in Castres, where they have won half their matches in the last ten years. But this term Perpignan have travelled poorly and have not won on the road since mid-September.

Castres will be looking to stay in touch with the leading trio but have not had a great month with defeat to Clermont and a draw in Bayonne following a hiding at the hands of Northampton.

Perpignan will be without Samoan number eight Henry Tuilagi for at least a month with a serious thigh-muscle tear.

He joins a growing injury list at Perpignan, with full-back Jerome Porical, centre Jean-Philippe Grandclaude, hooker Charles Geli and lock Guillaume Vilaceca also on the sidelines.

Previous result: Perpignan won 25-6
Prediction: Perpignan's record on the road suggests a home win. Castres by ten points
Kick-off: 14.15 (13.15 GMT)
Referee: Frank Maciello


Bordeaux-Bègles v Stade Français Paris
Stade Jacques Chaban-Delmas, Bordeaux

Stade Français are one of the form teams in France at the moment having won eight straight games in all competitions, including impressive wins over Clermont, Perpignan, Racing and Biarritz.

With that form in mind, the Parisian visitors would seem like clear favourites but Bordeaux have won their last three home games against Brive, Castres and Racing and will be desperate to pull clear of Lyon and the edge of the relegation zone.

Previous result: Stade Français won 41-20
Prediction: Michael Cheika's team are looking good. Stade Français by seven points
Kick-off: 14.15 (13.15 GMT)
Referee: Cyril Lafon


SU Agen v CA Brive Corrèze
Stade Armandie, Agen

Few would have expected Agen to be nine points ahead of Brive at the half-way mark of the season but les Agenais have had a good enough early season to be guaranteed to start the New Year in the top half of the standings.

They have had a dip in fortunes recently however as injuries have contributed to consecutive losses.

Brive meanwhile are the masters of the bonus point, and were well worth their latest point against Clermont last week. But bonus points won't be enough to avoid the drop and the Corréziens must end their run of four games without a win r face a difficult start to 2012.

Previous result: Agen won 20-19 in Brive
Prediction: Agen are good value at home. Agen by eight points
Kick-off: 14.15 (13.15 GMT)
Referee: Cédric Marchat


Lyon Olympique v ASM Clermont Auvergne
Stade Matmut, Lyon

It would be tough to bet against Clermont in what is, on paper, the most one-sided clash of the weekend. LOU should not be underestimated though, as shown by the narrow defeat (20-15) in Toulon last weekend.

Clermont did not set the field alight by scraping to victory against a stubborn Brive side last week but les Jaunards have several top players back including Wesley Fofana, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Gonzalo Canale, Benjamin Kayser and Jason White. Jamie Cudmore is doubtful with damaged ribs.

Lyon are without their fly-half and principal goal-kicker, Romain Loursac.

Previous result: Clermont won 22-13
Prediction: No mystery here. Clermont to win with a bonus point
Kick-off: 14.15 (13.15 GMT)
Referee: Salem Attalah


Biarritz Olympique v RC Toulon
Parc des Sports d'Aguilera, Biarritz

Biarritz sit unhappily rooted to the bottom of the table, with just two wins and two draws from 13 matches this season. Relegation is now a serious threat.

The fallen French giants will seek to reverse their appalling run this weekend, but could struggle in the face of a string of injuries in the pack and a strong Toulon side standing third in the league.

Stand-out back-row forward Imanol Harinordoquy will miss the match, having failed to recover from a knee injury sustained in European Cup action against Treviso earlier this month.

French international Fabien Barcella and Englishman Erik Lund are also ruled out through injury, while veteran prop Sylvain Marconnet and number eight Raphael Lakafia are doubtful.

"We're in a negative downward spiral but we must absolutely start thinking positively," Harinordoquy told L'Equipe.

"It's only a victory this weekend that will garner enthusiasm for the week ahead. There's not much to say, Biarritz need to win."

Toulon are set to give Springbok hardmand Bakkies Botha his first run since arriving after the World Cup. Botha has finally recovered from the Achilles injury that ended his RWC prematurely. Toulon have lost just once since Johnny Wilkinson's return.

Former Bok loose forward Joe van Niekerk is also expected to start.

Previous result: Toulon won 30-5
Prediction: Tough one. Toulon by a whisker
Kick-off: 16.15 (15.15 GMT)
Referee: Jérôme Garces

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Top 14 Table
PosTeamPPts
1Toulon2677
2Montpellier2676
3Clermont Auvergne2673
4Toulouse2669
5Racing Metro Paris2669