Planet Rugby

Top 14 Preview: Round 19

22nd February 2013 13:36

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Toulouse Luke McAlister L v Bayonne Joe Rokocoko R

Out-of-form champions: Toulouse host Bayonne

Defending champions Toulouse host Bayonne seeking to regain some form as we enter the final quarter of the Top 14 season.

Back-to-back defeats have left the France's most decorated club eleven points off the lead and trying to cling onto the shirt-tails of Clermont, who currently hold the second automatic semi-final berth.

Clermont have a tricky trip on their hands this weekend as they visit Grenoble, who have not lost on home soil since 2011.

There is tight scrape in mid-table and Saturday could be a pivotal moment in the season. Perpigan host Stade Français and Racing Métro travel to Biarritz with a loss for either of the hosts likely to severely dent their play-off hopes.

At the other end of the table, Agen have a golden opportunity to climb out of the relegation zone at home to Mont-de-Marsan.

Elsewhere, Montpellier will be looking to keep up with the leading quartet as they host Bordeaux-Bègles.

Fixtures:

Friday, February 22
Castres v Toulon - Preview here

Saturday, February 23
Agen v Mont-de-Marsan
Biarritz v Racing Métro
Grenoble v Clermont
Montpellier v Bordeaux-Bègles
Toulouse v Bayonne
Perpigan v Stade Français

Rugby Union betting odds

Standings:
1 Toulon 66
2 Clermont 60
3 Toulouse 55
4 Castres 50
5 Montpellier 49
6 Grenoble 46
7 Racing-Metro 46
8 Perpignan 43
9 Stade Français 41
10 Biarritz 41
11 Bayonne 35
12 Bordeaux-Bègles 24
13 Agen 23
14 Mont-de-Marsan 14


Stade Toulousain v Aviron Bayonnais
Stade Ernest Wallon, Toulouse

Knocked out of Europe, lucky to win against Biarritz, upset on the road in Agen and beaten at home by Perpignan, the last few weeks have not been good for Toulouse.

Despite the absence of a large contingent of the their internationals, Saturday should be an opportunity for Toulouse to get the train back on the tracks ahead of a trip to Toulon next week.

Bayonne have won just once in 17 visits to Ernest-Wallon (back in 2006). The Basques travel west without much pressure having opened up an 11-point gap on the relegation battle but are too far behind the play-off places to realistically envisage catching up. If anything, this weekend could serve as preparation for next week's Basque derby.

Apart from their Six Nations representatives (including Christopher Tolofua and Gael Fickou, who are with the U20s), Toulouse will be without Gary Botha, Grégory Lamboley, Jean-Baptiste Poux and Timoçi Matanavou.

Previous result: Toulouse won 35-6
Prediction: The hosts will expect to win. Toulouse by ten points
Kick-off: 15:00 (14.00 GMT)
Referee: Salem Attalah


Biarritz Olympique v Racing Métro 92
Parc des Sports d'Aguilera, Biarritz

A bonus-point win for Biarritz would draw them level with their visitors on the edge of the play-offs zone. But that seems unlikely as Racing travel to the Basque country on a five-game winning streak

Biarritz ground out a win on home soil against Castres last week and have won their last two home games against Racing (36-32 in 2011 and 22-13 last year). With the Basque Derby against Bayonne on the horizon, the hosts will be keen to maintain some momentum.

Juan Martin Hernandez has been included in the Racing squad despite being forced off the field with an injury last week.

Previous result: Racing won 13-12
Prediction: Racing's recent run is impressive but BO have been solid at home this season. Biarritz by less than five points.
Kick-off: 15:00 (14.00 GMT)
Referee: Bruno Bessot


FC Grenoble v ASM Clermont Auvergne
Stade des Alpes, Grenoble

After starting the season with bang, Grenoble have lost momentum somewhat but are still clinging onto sixth place thanks to their unbeaten record on home soil.

They face a real challenge to maintain that record against a Clermont side looking to stay in touch with Toulon at the top of the standings.

These side have not faced each other in Grenoble since 2006 but Clermont have won all four of their previous matches in the Alpes.

Clerment are missing a large group of internationals but are coming off a big win over Mont-de-Marsan.

Previous result: Clermont won 44-20
Prediction: We reckon Grenoble's unbeaten run at home could come to an end. Clermont by five points
Kick-off: 15:00 (14.00 GMT)
Referee: Christophe Berdos


Montpellier Hérault Rugby v Union Bordeaux-Bègles

Montpellier will be aiming to bounce back from their crushing defeat to Toulon last week and against the same side that upset the leaders a week earlier.

It's an important clash for les Héraultais, who are one point behind fourth-placed Castres but just three clear of the chasing pack lead by Grenoble and Racing

It's an ever bigger game for UBB, who are just one point clear of the relegation zone and with Agen likely to win, les Bordelais cannot afford to leave Montpellier empty handed.

Montpellier have won six games at home, where they are undefeated since mid-September.

The hosts will however be without former England international Shontayne Hape, who has been ruled out for the rest of the season due to a series of concussions.

Previous result: Montpellier won 23-15
Prediction: Monpellier should bounce back. Montpelllier by ten points
Kick-off: 15:00 (14.00 GMT)
Referee: Céderic Marchat


SU Agen v Mont-de-Marsan
Stade Armandie, Agen

Agen will be playing for their Top 14 lives this weekend as they will see this clash as a must-win. Defeat to stone-last Mont-de-Marsan would leave SUA stuck in the relegation zone.

Mont-de-Marsan have not won in Agen since 1991 and the hosts were the 37-8 winners the last time these teams met at Stade Armandie.

Agen welcome back loose forward Jean Monribot

Previous result: Agen won 28-16
Prediction: The pressure is on Agen but they should get the job done. Agen to win by fifteen points
Kick-off: 15:00 (14.00 GMT)
Referee: Jean-Pierre Matheu


USA Perpignan v Stade Français Paris
Stade Aimé Giral, Perpignan

Having upset Toulouse on the road last week, Perpignan will look to keep the ball rolling on home soil. Both these teams are still in the race for the play-off but defeat this weekend leave Stade Français lagging behind.

Stade Français have not travelled well in recent years but their trips to Catalogne have been better than most. The Parisians won 35-16 in 2011 and lost by a single point in 2010.

News from Paris is that South African lock Anton Van Zyl has extended his contract with Stade Français.

Scrum-half David Mélé will wear the number 10 jersey for Perpignan in the absence of Wales playmaker James Hook.

Romain Taofifenua has been released by the French national side and will start in the second row alongside his cousin Sébastien Vahaamahina. Richard Haughton starts on the wing.

Previous result: Stade Français won 34-24
Prediction: Stade Français just can't win on the road. Perpignan by eight points
Kick-off: 20.40 (19.40 GMT)
Referee: Jean-Luc Rebollal

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