Planet Rugby

Top 14 Preview: Round Ten

22nd October 2010 07:51

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Shaun Sowerby Toulouse Perpignan

Clash of the big boys: Toulouse host Perpignan

France's European contenders go head to head for domestic honours this weekend as Toulouse host Perpignan and Clermont visit Biarritz.

Toulon travel to the capital for a gala event at the Stade de France hoping to put their Heineken Cup disappointment behind them against Stade Français.

It's as tight as could be at the top of the standings with just two points separating the leading five clubs and just five points - the equivalent of a bonus-point win - between first and ninth!

Leaders Racing kick-off the weekend's action on Friday at home to early pacesetters Bayonne while Montpellier will fancy their chances of regaining the top spot when they host struggling Bourgoin.

Elsewhere, relegation candidates Agen must visit impressive Castres whilst newcomers La Rochelle are at home to Brive.

Fixtures:

Friday, October 22

Racing Métro v Bayonnais

Saturday, October 23

Toulouse v Perpignan
Montpellier v Bourgoin
Castres v Agen
La Rochelle v Brive
Biarritz v Clermont
Stade Français v Toulon

Standings:

1 Racing Metro 28
2 Toulouse 27
3 Toulon 27
4 Montpellier 27
5 Perpignan 26
6 Clermont 24
7 Stade Français 23
8 Bayonne 23
9 Biarritz 23
10 Castres 19
11 Brive 17
12 La Rochelle 11
13 Bourgoin 10
14 Agen 7

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Previews:

Racing-Métro 92 v Aviron Bayonnais
Stade Yves Du Manoir - Colombes (Paris)

Having lost just twice in the last seven Top 14 games (and picking up a bonus point of both occasions) Racing are clearly a side in form.

A week after beating Clermont in the Heineken Cup, the leaders will back themselves to maintain their undefeated home record.

Bayonne by contrast will be looking to regain some momentum after three consecutive defeats, including two at home pulled the hand brake on a super start to the season.

The Basques will however take some confidence from their win over Harlequins in the Challenge Cup a fortnight ago.

Racing-Metro are still without full-back/centre Francois Steyn (Calf), fly-half Juan Martin Hernandez (thigh) and wing Benjamin Fall (back). Skipper Lionel Nallet and scrum-half Nicolas Durand are also being rested.

Scrum-half Mathieu Lorée takes over the captaincy for les Franciliens in a largely unchanged back-line.

Bayonne welcome back fly-half Benjamin Boyet and prop Denis Avril but lock Dwayne Haare and prop Clément Baïocco are on the injury list. Joe Pietersen is on the bench.

Results last season: Racing won both games, 18-9 at home; 23-19 away.
Prediction: Racing's home record is impressive but they're missing a lot of big players. It'll be close. Racing by two of three points
Kick-off: 20:45 (18.45 GMT)
Referee: Jean-Pierre Matheu

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Stade Toulousain v USA Perpignan
Stadium de Toulouse

Arguably the two best packs in France face off at Toulouse's 37000-seater municipal stadium with the hosts looking to set the record straight after being bullied in last season's semi-final.

Perpignan have not claimed a league win in Toulouse in 30 years (although they did sneak one in the Challenge Yves-du-Manoir back in 1993).

Yet the Catalans will arrive in the Ville Rose with a fair amount of confidence. Undefeated in six domestic games, the former champs came from behind to grab a five-try win over Treviso last weekend.

That said, you would have to be very brave to bet against the big red machine at home, where they have yet to lose this season. Two wins in the Heineken Cup based on domination up front confirmed Toulouse as favourites to defend their European crown.

Les Toulousains have not won the domestic title since 2008, a statistic that wouldn't be alarming to most people. But to manager Guy Novès it amounts to failure.

Toulouse will be looking to their evergreen centre Yannick Jauzion again on Saturday to lead from the front as the 32-year-old Test veteran has done on so many occasions.

"He has the mentality, the intelligence, the physique," purred Novès, never one to hand out praise liberally.

"He knew how to adapt to modern rugby both in the physical sense, but above all it is his vision which allows him to get his team-mates involved in the game."

Even more satisfying for Jauzion is that the player who threatened his number one spot in the national side, Maxime Mermoz - who left Toulouse for Perpignan having given up on ever displacing the older man - will not play against his former team-mates due to a shoulder injury that is taking longer to heal than initially expected.

Pumas lock Patrice Albacete makes his return after a four-week lay-off. More good news for the hosts is that Frédéric Michalak is now taking part in group training as he returns from seven months off after rupturing his knee ligaments.

For Perpignan, Olivier Olibeau (knee), Jean-Pierre Perez (knee), Grégory Le Corvec (back), Farid Sid (back) and Rimas Alvarez-Kairélis (knee) are ruled out.

Results last season: Perignan won 17-15 at home; Toulouse won 22-11 at home
Prediction: 30 years? Perpignan might have to wait a year or two more. Toulouse by six points
Kick-off: 14:15 (12.15 GMT)
Referee: Christophe Berdos

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Montpellier HR v CS Bourgoin-Jallieu
Stade Yves Du Manoir, Montpellier

Dynamique positive is the catch phrase used to describe Montpellier these days. One point off the top spot and leading their Challenge Cup group, Fabien Galthié will be aiming for a bonus point on Saturday as they welcome back some key players.

Montpol's European success is all the more impressive as they beat Exeter and Newcastle without French internationals Fulgence Ouedraogo, Julien Tomas and François Trinh-Duc, who will all be back this weekend.

In stark contrast, things couldn't be worse for Bourgoin, who are used to struggling in the Top 14 but have usually done well in the Challenge Cup. Two losses have virtually eliminated from European competition and if they don't come right soon, les Berjalliens can say good-bye to the Top 14.

Injury news isn't good for the visitors either with no less than sixteen players crocked including influential goal-kicker Sébastien Lalôo.

Results last season: Montpellier won both games, 23-20 away; 34-27 at home
Prediction: It should be one-way traffic. Montpellier to win with a bonus point
Kick-off: 14:30 (12.30 GMT)
Referee: David Rosich

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Castres Olympique v SU Agen
Stade Pierre Antoine, Castres

Stone last with just a single win to show for their efforts, Agen must now travel to a Castres side that surprised many in the Heineken Cup.

Castres have been inconsistent this year but are unbeaten at home, where they have claimed the scalps of Toulouse, Racing, Bayonne and Brive.

Agen will be encouraged by the win over Gloucester in the Challenge Cup but might very well be concentrating on next week's crunch clash with fellow relegation candidates La Rochelle.

Prediction: Going on Castres' performances in Europe, they shouldn't be troubled. Castres by twelve points
Kick-off: 14:30 (12.30 GMT)
Referee: Franck Maciello

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Stade Rochelais Atlantique v CA Brive Corrèze
Stade Marcel Deflandre, La Rochelle

Just one point clear of the drop zone, La Rochelle desperately need a win to end their six-game losing streak. Two wins in the Challenge Cup would have boosted morale but they won't count in the battle to avoid relegation.

Crucially, les Maritimes have picked up a few bonus points along the way, notably in Perpignan.

Brive put 116 points past El Salvador last week but les Corréziens will be far more concerned with picking up only their fourth win this season - a must if they are to stay in contact with the race for the play-offs.

Prediction: The visitors should have too much firepower, but La Rochelle can hope for another bonus point. Brive by six points
Kick-off:14:30 (12.30 GMT)
Referee: Cédric Marchat

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Biarritz Olympique v ASM Clermont Auvergne
Parc des Sports d'Aguilera, Biarritz

Biarritz's campaign is gathering momentum as they welcome the champions off the back of a five-match unbeaten run. Wins over Stade Français and Toulouse followed by an impressive display in the Heineken Cup have left the Basques with plenty to smile about.

Clermont came out winners on their last two visits to Biarritz but their form on the road this season as been far from great with a single win in Bourgoin their only success on the road.

Les Jaunards seem to be prioritising their French title defence after sending a below-strength team to Paris in the Heineken Cup last week.

The Champions are however sweating over a few players, including centre Marius Joubert ('flu) and hooker Ti'i Paulo (elbow). The latter is a serious concern considering the absence of Mario Ledesma, who still recovering from knee surgery.

Good news is the return of Julien Bonnaire, Aurélien Rougerie, Lionel Faure and Alexandre Lapandry, who were all rested last week.

Biarrtz have few injury absentees of their own, notably loose forward Imanol Harinordoquy, who has calf problem, and lock Manuel Carizza, who has a sprain ankle.

Erik Lund, Pelu Taele are Raphaël Lakafia back in the team.

Results last season: Biarritz won 16-13 away; Clermont won 26-19 away.
Prediction: Tough one to call but Biarritz have done well to squeeze out results of late. Biarritz by five points.
Kick-off: 14:30 (12.30 GMT)
Referee: Romain Poite

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Stade Français Paris v RC Toulon
Stade de France, Paris

The pressure will mainly be on Stade Français as 70 000 people are expected at gala match of the weekend.

An inconsistent start to the season has left the Parisians a little off the pace in seventh place. A win this weekend and they'll be right back in hunt, a loss however could seem they trailing the leaders by as much as ten points.

Two wins in the Challenge Cup would have done a lot for the spirit in the camp, even though they were achieved with mostly second-string teams.

Mickael Cheika's side (who will wear a bright pink leopard print kit!) have been electrifying on attack this season but face a Toulon side that can boast the best defence in Top 14.

For all their defensive strength on French soil, RCT but fell apart somewhat last week when they conceded 45 points, including six tries to Munster.

Toulon will send a full-strength team North although Pierre Mignoni, Paul Sackey and Fotu Auelua are on the Toulon injury list, but lock Kris Chesney, scrum-half Laurent Magnaval and full-back Clément Marienval are fit for selection. Sebastien Bruno is back after missing to two games.

Stade Français have also recalled all of the big names that were rested over the Challenge Cup fortnight. Rodrigo Roncero and James Haskell start. Sergio Parisse is back to captain the side.

Results last season: 22-all draw in Toulon; Toulon won 22-18 in Paris
Prediction: It'll be close. It's usually safest to back the home team, but the hosts' record at the Stade de France is far from brilliant. They will however probably be the fresher of the two sides after relatively easy fortnight. Stade Français by a whisker.
Kick-off:16:30 (14.30 GMT)
Referee: Pascal Gauzere

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