Top 14 Preview: Round 25

19th Apr 2013, 14:09

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Top class rivalry: Clermont host Toulouse

Top class rivalry: Clermont host Toulouse

Toulouse travel to Clermont in the penultimate round of the Top 14 while the Stade de France hosts the Paris derby on Sunday.

Toulouse travel to Clermont in the penultimate round of the Top 14 regular season while the Stade de France hosts the Paris derby on Sunday.

Toulon prepare for next week's Heineken Cup semi-finals with a trip to Grenoble where the hosts have been near-invincible this season.

Perpignan are the only side left with a chance of breaking into the play-off spots but must hit the road to already-relegated Agen.

Castres are chasing a home play-off and will hope for a full house of points when they welcome Mont-de-Marsan.

Montpellier face a tricky trip to Bayonne while Bordeaux-Bègles have nothing left to play for as they host a Biarritz side still harbouring hopes of qualifying for Europe's top division next term.

Fixtures:

Saturday, April 20
Clermont v Toulousain
Agen v Perpignan
Bayonne v Montpellier
Bordeaux-Bègles v Biarritz
Castres v Mont-de-Marsan
Grenoble v Toulon

Sunday, April 21
Stade Français v Racing Métro

Standings:
1 Toulon 84
2 Clermont 82
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3 Toulouse 74
4 Castres 68
5 Racing Metro 68
6 Montpellier 67
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7 Perpignan 61
8 Biarritz 52
9 Stade Francais 50
10 Grenoble 50
11 Bayonne 49
12 Bordeaux-Begles 43
------------------
13 Agen 27
14 Mont-de-Marsan 15





Previews:

ASM Clermont Auvergne v Stade Toulousain
Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin, Clermont Ferrand

It's been eleven years since Toulouse last won in Clermont, losing on their last eight visits to Europe's best guarded fortress. But those numbers don't tell the whole story...

The defending champions have left with a losing bonus point after five of those eight games in Volcano Country. Indeed, clashes between les Jaunards and les Rouge et Noir have become highlights of the French fixture list over the past decade and seldom disappoint.

Just how seriously Toulouse will take their chances of victory this time remains to be seen however. With Clermont - who are unbeaten at home in 58 games - hosting Bordeaux next week, it seems almost impossible for Toulouse to break into the leading duo so Guy Novès could well focus on next week's home game against Grenoble, when les Toulousains should secure a home play-off spot.

Clermont have had a run of massive clashes. Their Heineken Cup quarter-final win over Montpellier was followed by a top-of-the-table draw with Toulon. This weekend's clash with another of Europe's top clubs will be perfect preparation for next week's showdown with Munster in the HEC semi-finals.

Victory this week for Clermont will see them equal Stade Français' record for an unbeaten streak on home soil.

Former All Blacks fly-half Mike Delany made an impressive debut for Clermont last week having trained for just three days with his new team-mates. He should feature again as Brock James is still sidelined and David Skrela is doubtful.

Toulouse are missing seven players, including injured Maxime Médard, Gary Botha, Timoci Matanavou, Patricio Albacete (rested) and Christopher Tolofua.

Good news, however, is that Luke McAlister and Louis Picamoles should be available.

Previous result Toulouse won 30-22
Prediction: Clermont won this fixture 35-5 last year and 32-25 the year before. Clermont by ten points
Kick-off: 15:00 (13:00 GMT)
Referee: Christophe Berdos




SU Agen v USA Perpignan
Stade Armandie, Agen

A big win is non-negotiable if Perpignan hope to remain the race for the play-offs. The Catalans are six points short of Montpellier, who travel to Bayonne, meaning that USAP need two favourable results to stay in contention.

With one eye on next week's Challenge Cup semi-final against Stade Français, Perpignan have decided to rest internationals Guilhem Guirado, Sébastien Vahaamahina and James Hook.

Condemned to relegation, the player drain at Agen has already started with at least seven first-choice players on the departure list. Jean Monribot, Sylvain Dupuy, Romain Edmond-Samuel, Opeti Fonua, Ueleni Fono, Lisiate Fa'aoso are set to play their last games in front of the Stade Armandie faithful. Saïmoni Vaka is also on his way out but has a broken arm, so won't feature.

Previous result: Perpignan won 39-13
Prediction: USAP still have plenty to play for. Perpignan by six points
Kick-off: 18:30 (16:30 GMT)
Referee: Cédric Marchat




Aviron Bayonnais v Montpellier Hérault Rugby
Stade Jean Dauger, Bayonne

Montpellier can secure a place in the knock-out stages with victory this weekend and will fancy their chances at a venue where they've won on their last two visits (17-26 last year and 18-29 in 2011).

Failure to get the job done will set up an almighty showdown with Perpignan for the last remaining play-off spot on the final day.

Montpellier have won their last three games - away to Grenoble and Mont-de-Marsan before edging Toulouse at home - so they seem to have found some form at just the right moment.

Bayonne's only remain goal will be to try finish above their Basque rivals Biarritz, whom they trail by three points. The hosts will be without Benjamin Boyet and Gaby Lovobalavu but welcome back prop Neemia Tialata and wing Bastien Fuster.

Montpellier will travel with an unchanged squad. François Trinh-Duc is still the most notable injury absentee.

Previous result: Montpellier won 29-22
Prediction: The visitors have a good record at Stade Jean Dauger. Montpellier by a whisker
Kick-off: 18:30 (16:30 GMT)
Referee: Romain Poite




Union Bordeaux-Bègles v Biarritz Olympique
Stade Jacques Chaban-Delmas, Bordeaux

Nothing much to play for here. Biarritz have a mathematical chance of claiming seventh place, which could be worth a spot in the Heineken Cup, but it's a long shot.

The Basques are focussed on next week's Challenge Cup semi-final against Leinster as they look to defend their title. As a result they've rested a bunch of internationals (Imanol Harinordoquy, Damien Traille, Benoit Baby and Eric Lund) while a handful of stalwarts will ride the bench (Dimitri Yachvili, Takudza Ngwenya and Arnaud Héguy).

Ngwenya deserves a break, he has seen more game time than any other player in France this year (2311 minutes).

Bordeaux-Bègles produced the upset of Round 24, snatching a draw in Castres. This week they welcome back full-back Bruce Reihana, prop Patrick Toetu and hooker Fabien Rofes.

Previous result: Biarritz won 25-22
Prediction: UBB have had a strong end to the season. Bordeaux-Bègles by eight points
Kick-off: 18:30 (16:30 GMT)
Referee: Salem Attalah




Castres Olympique v Stade Montois
Stade Pierre Antoine,