Planet Rugby

Top 14 Preview: Round 17

08th February 2013 15:08

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Biarritz s fullback Iain Balshaw R vies with Montpellier s fullback Jean baptiste Peyras

Clash on the Mediterranean: Montpellier v Biarritz

A clash of fixtures with the Six Nations means that France's heavyweights must travel without their European internationals this weekend.

The leading trio of Toulon, Clermont and Toulouse all hit the road with les Jaunards facing the toughest test against Racing.

Perpignan head west for a Basque-Catalan clash with Bayonne while Stade Français will test their shaky form outside of the capital in Castres.

Montpellier, who are hunting a home play-off, host Biarritz while Grenoble will be to looking to hang onto their place in the stop six away to Mont-de-Marsan.

Fixtures:

Friday, February 8
Racing Métro v Clermont - Preview here

Saturday, February 9
Agen v Toulouse
Bayonnais v Perpignan
Bordeaux-Bègles v Toulon
Castres v Stade Français
Mont-de-Marsan v Grenoble
Montpellier v Biarritz

Rugby Union betting odds

Standings:
1 Toulon 61
2 Toulouse 54
3 Clermont 54
4 Montpellier 45
5 Castres 44
6 Grenoble 42
7 Perpignan 38
8 Racing Metro 38
9 Stade Francais 37
10 Biarritz 37
11 Bayonne 30
12 Agen 19
13 Bordeaux-Begles 19
14 Mont de Marsan 9

Previews:

SU Agen v Stade Toulousain
Stade Armandie, Agen

Despite lying second in the standings, all is not well in Toulouse as the defending champions have not hit their straps in recent weeks, eking out unconvincing results.

Deprived of the internationals, Guy Novès and his team will hope the short break would have revitalised their game.

Agen meanwhile have not won since late September. Despite a few gutsy performances on home soil, it's difficult to see Philippe Sella's team getting the better of Toulouse, whom they have not beaten since 2006.

Agen welcome back Argentine centre Miguel Avramovic from injury while Australia full-back Ben Seymour returns from suspension.

Georgian hooker Jaba Bregvadze makes his return for Toulouse after ten months on the sidelines.

Previous result: Toulouse won 62-13
Prediction: Toulouse have not been at their best but would still expect to win. Toulouse by nine points
Kick-off: 15:00 (14.00 GMT)
Referee: Sébastien Clouté


Aviron Bayonnais v USA Perpignan
Stade Jean Dauger, Bayonne

After a difficult start to the season, Perpignan are on an upward trend, as illustrated by their win over Clermont last time out. Now just four points off the play-off spots, the Catalans are growing in confidence.

But a trip to Bayonne is never easy and the Basques are also in decent form following their solid win over Castres. Another success on home soil would ease their relegation worries significantly.

Perpigan have included lock Sébastien Vahaamahina in their extended squad despite him suffering from an ankle injury. Scotland lock Alasdair Strokosch has been ruled out for a month with a fractured eye socket. Veteran Prop Nicolas Mas is on international duty in Paris.

Previous result: Perpignan won 18-13
Prediction: The clash earlier this season was a tight affair and we expect a repeat, with the host coming out on top. Bayonne by five points
Kick-off: 15:00 (14.00 GMT)
Referee: Patrick Pechambert


Union Bordeaux-Bègles v Rugby Club Toulonnais
Stade Jacques Chaban-Delmas, Bordeaux

Stuck in the relegation zone, the last thing Bordeaux-Bègles need right now is a visit from the league leaders. The hosts will also be without coach Raphaël Ibanez, whose commitments to French television mean that he is also in Paris to cover the Six Nations.

With 42 points separating the clubs, Toulon are obviously favourites for victory but are coming off the back of two poor performances against Racing and Mont-de-Marsan.

Johnny Wilkinson and company have lost just twice on the road this season though, so expect a RCT to get job done.

Bordeaux-Bègles XV: Reihana, Talebula, Rey, Mailei, Le Bourhis, Lopez, Adams - Clarkin (cap), Purll, Madaule, Jaulhac, Treloar, Florea, Avei, Delboulbes

Previous result: Toulon won 42-12
Prediction: Toulon's record on the road in impressive. Toulon by ten points
Kick-off: 15:00 (14.00 GMT)
Referee: Mathieu Raynal


Castres Olympique v Stade Français Paris
Stade Pierre Antoine, Castres

After three consecutive defeats, Castres are under threat of dropping out of the play-off places. A return to their fortress at Pierre Antoine, where Stade Français do not have a great record, will come very welcome after losing in Bayonne last time out.

Stade Français have won their last two games at home but have tasted success just once on the road this season, at lowly Mont-de-Marsan.

Previous result: 20-20 draw
Prediction: Stade Français have a woeful record outside the capital. Castres by twelve points
Kick-off: 15:00 (14.00 GMT)
Referee: Christophe Berdos


Stade Montois v FC Grenoble
Stade Guy Boniface, Mont-de-Marsan

These two came up from the ProD2 together but have enjoyed vastly different fortunes in the top flight. While Grenoble have been this season's surprise package, Mont-de-Marsan have been totally out of their depth.

Although unbeaten on home soil, Grenoble have yet to win on the road this term and were hammered by Stade Français in Round 16, meaning Mont-de-Marsan will fancy their chances of picking up just their second win this season.

Grenoble XV: Tuculet ; Coetzee, Hunt, Jahouer, Dupont ; (o) Stewart, (m) Courrent ; Bernard, Faure, Vanderglas ; Hand, Farley ; Mutapcic, Hegarty, Edwards.

Previous result: Grenoble won 52-7
Prediction: It'll be an epic battle, but Grenoble should pick up their first win away from home. Grenoble to edge it
Kick-off: 15:00 (14.00 GMT)
Referee: Romain Poite


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

Fourth-placed Montpellier seem out of the race for an automatic semi-final berth but are looking to firm their grip on a home play-off spot.

Biarritz are five points off the back of the play-offs race meaning a rare win in Montpellier is essential for Dimitri Yachvili and co. if they hope to be involved in the knock-out phases.

Benoit Baby will be joined by Pumas centre Marcelo Bosch in midfield in the absence on injured stalwart Damien Traille.

Biarritz XV: Balshaw ; Ngwenya, Baby, Bosch, Brew ; Barraque, Yachvili ; Gray, Harinordoquy, Guyot ; Dubarry, E. Lund ; Van Staden, August, Synaeghel.

Previous result: Biarritz won 27-8
Prediction: Montpellier have lost just once at home this season (to Toulon). Montpellier by six points
Kick-off: 20:40 (19.40 GMT)
Referee: Cyril Lafon

Forthcoming Fixtures
FixtureDetails
All times are local
Heineken Cup
Saturday , April 26
Saracens vs Clermont Auvergne15:40
Sunday , April 27
Toulon vs Munster15:30
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Saturday , April 26
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Amlin Challenge Cup
Friday , April 25
Northampton vs Harlequins20:00
Sunday , April 27
Wasps vs Bath13:00
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Friday , April 25
Blues vs Waratahs17:35
Brumbies vs Chiefs17:40
Sharks vs Highlanders19:10
Saturday , April 26
Hurricanes vs Reds19:35
Western Force vs Bulls17:40
Cheetahs vs Stormers17:05
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1Saracens2080
2Northampton2071
3Bath2064
4Leicester Tigers2064
5Harlequins2058