Planet Rugby

Preview: Clermont v Toulon

20th March 2014 20:02

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Sitiveni Sivivatu Rudi Wulf Clermont Toulon Heineken Cup final

Imported firepower: Rudi Wulf and Sitiveni Sivivatu

This weekend's Top 14 action kicks off on Friday with a battle for the championship lead as Toulon face the ever-perilous trip to Clermont.

This fixture has become somewhat of a grudge match in recent times since Toulon came within inches of breaking Clermont's long unbeaten record in 2012 - sparking owner Mourad Boudjellal's infamous "refereeing sodomy" remarks - before taking revenge in last year's European Cup Final.

Clermont's unbeaten run now sits at 73 games over a period of four years and only the very bravest would bet against les Jaunards notching up another win in front of their fanatical supporters.

But they will have to do it without several of their international stars.

Lock Alexandre Lapandry injured a shoulder in France's loss to Ireland in the last of the Six Nations games, while centre Wesley Fofana is still sidelined with bruised ribs.

While coach Vern Cotter will have Mike Delany, Regan King and Raphael Chaume back at his disposal, he will have to do without Julien Malzieu, Julien Bardy and Benjamin Kayser.

While Toulon's entire Six Nations contingent is given a rest, Clermont have named France prop Thomas Domingo in their starting XV with Vincent Debaty and Damien Chouly on the bench. Flanker Julien Bonnaire returns from a fractured arm.

European champions Toulon will miss international centres Maxime Mermoz and Mathieu Bastaraud, both rested a week after the loss to Ireland, as well as Italian prop Martin Castrogiovanni.

Australian international Matt Giteau and Rudi Wulf will make up the centre partnership with Frederic Michalak getting the nod ahead of Jonny Wilkinson at fly-half. Toulouse-bound French international Alexis Palisson makes a rare start for Toulon on the wing. Josua Tuisova makes his first start since November .

England prop Andrew Sheridan and Springbok lock Bathies Botha are nursing long-term injuries, but coach Bernard Laporte will be able to recall scrum-half Sebastien Tillous-Borde, who has recovered from a foot injury.

Toulon won 25-19 when these team last met, back in October at the Allianz Riviera Stadium in Nice.

The two powerhouses of French rugby both have 60 points to their credit with five games to go before the end of the regular season when six teams will proceed into the playoffs. Both sides seem assured of achieving that primary goal, but will be keen to stay in the top two places, thus avoiding having to play in the first round of the playoffs.

Clermont: 15 Lee Byrne, 14 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 13 Aurelien Rougerie, 12 Benson Stanley, 11 Naipolioni Nalaga, 10 Brock James, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Gerhard Vosloo, 6 Julien Bonnaire, 5 Nathan Hines, 4 Jamie Cudmore, 3 Davit Zirakashvili, 2 Ti'i Paulo, 1 Thomas Domingo.
Replacements: 16 Benoit Cabello, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Julien Pierre, 19 Damien Chouly, 20 Thierry Lacrampe, 21 Mike Delany, 22 Regan King, 23 Daniel Kotze.

Toulon: 15 Delon Armitage, 14 Alexis Palisson, 13 Rudi Wulf, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Josua Tuisova, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Sebastien Tillous-Borde, 8 Steffon Armitage, 7 Virgile Bruni, 6 Juan Smith, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Jocelino Suta, 3 Carl Hayman, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Xavier Chiocci.
Replacements: 16 Benjamin Noirot, 17 Florian Fresia, 18 Danie Rossouw, 19 Pierrick Gunther, 20 Jonny Wilkinson, 21 Theo Belan, 22 Michael Claassens, 23 Levan Chilachava.

Date: Friday, March 21
Venue: Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin
Kick-off: 20.45 local (19.45 GMT
Referee: Pascal Gauzère
Assistant referees: Sébastien Clouté, Christophe Malterre

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