Planet Rugby

Top 14 preview: Round Seven

28th September 2012 12:03

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Toulon s Frederic Michalak runs with the ball sept 2012

Fred Michalak: Back in Toulouse, but on the visitors side this time

Defending champions Toulouse host Top 14 leaders Toulon on Saturday while the stakes are high in Sunday's Basque derby in Biarritz.

There were fears that Toulon's trip to the sold-out Stadium de Toulouse would become a non-event when RCT coach Bernard Laporte announced he was resting a raft of his top players after six wins on the trot, but a glance at this weekend's squad - featuring names like Michalak, Giteau, Jenkins, Hayman and Bastareaud - should reassure fans they'll get a quality contest.

Elsewhere, play-off hopefuls Montpellier and Castres will do battle on the Mediterranean coast while Perpignan will expect to win at home to struggling Mont-de-Marsan.

Racing face a tricky trip to Grenoble while Agen and Bordeaux-Begles are hoping to stay clear of the relegation zone.

Sunday's Basque derby, which has been moved from Spain back to Biarritz, is a huge game for Bayonne, who have had a terrible start to the season.

Fixtures:

Friday, September 28

Clermont v Stade Français -Match preview here

Saturday, September 29
Agen v Bordeaux-Bègles
Grenoble v Racing Métro 92
Montpellier v Castres
Perpignan v Mont-de-Marsan
Toulouse v Toulon

Sunday, September 30
Biarritz v Bayonne

Rugby Union betting odds

Standings:
1 Toulon 27
2 Clermont 23
3 Toulouse 20
4 Biarritz 18
5 Racing-Metro 18
6 Castres 15
7 Montpellier 15
8 Grenoble 14
9 Perpignan 11
10 Stade Français 10
11 Agen 10
12 Bordeaux-Begles 9
13 Bayonne 7
14 Mont-de-Marsan 0

Previews:

SU Agen v Union Bordeaux-Bègles
Stade Armandie, Agen

After a slow start to the season, Agen have picked up back-to-back wins (over Grenoble and Mont-de-Marsan) and will fancy their chances against a Bordeaux side that have blown hot and cold this term.

Agen's resurgence has a lot to do with sorting out their defensive issues. After conceding 94 points and 12 tries in two games, they've got their ducks - and defenders - in a row.

Bordeaux-Begles have won just once in their last five visits to Agen.

It's a crucial clash for both teams as the losers risk dropping into the relegation zone while the winners should climb into mid-table.

Results last season: Agen won 24-15 at home; Bordeaux won 29-15 at home
Prediction: Agen is looking better every week. Agen by seven points
Kick-off: 18:30 (16.30 GMT)
Referee: Philippe Bonhoure


FC Grenoble v Racing Métro 92
Stade des Alpes (Grenoble)

After completely dominating Stade Français at home last month, Grenoble - who have the joint-best attack in the championship so far - will be hoping for a repeat against the other club from Paris.

The hosts are feeling confident as they have moved the clash to the much larger Stade des Alpes for the first time this season.

But les Grenoblois will probably start as the underdogs against the Racing team that has been in good form on the road having won twice and picked up a bonus point outside the capital.

Victory over Biarritz last week was further proof that Racing are genuine title contenders this season.

Previous result: Racing won 15-7 (ProD2 in 2009)
Prediction: Les Fanciliens are traveling well at the moment. Racing by less than seven points
Kick-off: 18:30 (16.30 GMT)
Referee: Gérard Borreani


Montpellier Hérault Rugby v Castres Olympique
Stade Yves Du Manoir, Montpellier

Level on points after six rounds, Montpellier and Castres have become accustomed to racing each other for a spot in the play-offs.

Montpellier were disappointed to be left empty-handed at home to Toulon but made up for that loss somewhat with a big win on the road to Bordeaux last week.

Inconsistency has long been a problem for les Héraultias but Fabien Galthié's team are starting to gather some momentum.

Castres have made a solid start to the season and won't be too worried by the hiding received in Toulon last week since they sent a rather below-strength side.

Castres have won the last three meetings between these sides, including their last game in Montpellier.

Results last season: Castres won both games, 21-16 away and 31-15 at home
Prediction: Montpellier are still missing a bunch of Pumas, but should have enough firepower at home. Montpellier by five points
Kick-off: 18:30 (16.30 GMT)
Referee: Salem Attalah


USA Perpignan v Stade Montois
Stade Aimé Giral, Perpignan

Perpignan are going from strength to strength having claimed victory over Toulouse and a bonus point in Paris last week.

With an ambitious game plan and a positive attitude, the Catalans are playing entertaining rugby but are being punished for their indiscipline and are struggling at scrum time.

USAP were given a boost this week with the news that French international centre David Marty has extended his contract by three years.

Mont-de-Marsan need a win badly to revive their morale and their chances of avoiding relegation, but it's unlikely to come this weekend.

Previous result: Perpignan won 44-3 (in 2009)
Prediction: Mont-de-Marsan can't buy a win at the moment. Perpignan by fifteen points
Kick-off: 18:30 (16.30 GMT)
Referee: Bernard Dal Maso


Stade Toulousai v Rugby Club Toulonnais
Stadium de Toulouse

All the headlines in France this week have focused on Toulon's decision to rest 14 top players for the biggest game of the season. Toulouse aren't complaining - Guy Novès is renowned for choosing his battles and rotating his squad.

The Toulon stance has received sympathy from none other than France coach Philippe Saint-André, who said it was understandable given the number of matches played every season at club level.

"The problem is that they play 40 matches a year, which is too many," said Saint-André, who coached Toulon before taking over as France boss.

"Would you ask a boxer to fight 40 times a year? No, because if they did, they wouldn't be champion for long.

"If Toulon finished the first phase of the Top 14 20 points ahead but with 10 players injured and go on to lose in the semi-finals, they won't be champions of France."

Fear not for the contest however because RCT are still sending a star-studded team with former Toulouse favourite Fred Michalak returning home to start at fly-half.

For the hosts, props Antoine Guillamon and Vasil Kakovin, hooker Gary Botha, fly-half Lionel Beauxis and centre Yann David have all been ruled out with injury.

Good news is that Clément Poitrenaud should be fit despite missing training this week

Toulon squad:

Forwards: Steffon Armitage, Virgile Bruni, Sébastien Bruno, Xavier Chiocci, Florian Fresia, Pierrick Gunther , Carl Hayman, Gethin Jenkins, Nick Kennedy, Mickael Ivaldi, Chris Masoe, Kote Mikautadze, Simon Shaw, Joe van Niekerk.

Backs: Mathieu Bastareaud, Nicolas Durand, Matt Giteau, Benjamin Lapeyre, Vincent Martin, Geoffroy Messina, Frédéric Michalak , Alexis Palisson, Luke Rooney, David Smith.

Results last season: Toulouse won 18-12 at home; Toulon won 25-22 at home
Prediction: Toulon's winning streak could finally come to an end. Toulouse by six points in a low-scoring clash
Kick-off: 20:45 (18.45 GMT)
Referee: Mathieu Raynal


Biarritz Olympique v Aviron Bayonnais
Parc des Sports d'Aguilera, Biarritz

Sunday sees Bayonne bidding to take a further step to kick-start their disastrous season which has featured just one victory in six outings.

And it won't be an easy task, with an "away" trip across the river to near neighbours Biarritz,who have claimed the spoils in 10 of the 14 Basques derbies since the creation on the Top14.

Second last, Bayonne went down 34-6 to Toulouse last weekend, giving a performance coach Christian Lanta said was "not sufficient".

"We learned a rugby lesson and came across a team that mastered everything that rendered us powerless," said Lanta.

The game has been moved back to Biarritz after initially being scheduled for Stadio Anoeta in Saint-Sébastien, due to slow ticket sales. A sign of the difficult financial times or Bayonne's poor form?

Biarritz have lost two in row after their strong start to the season but they will take encouragement from the narrow defeat (13-12) to Racing in Paris last week.

Results last season: Biaritz won 21-19 at home; Bayonne won 24-19 at home
Prediction: Bayonne are a disorganised rabble these days. Biarritz by eight points
Kick-off: 17:05 (15.05 GMT)
Referee: Jérôme Garcès

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