Preview: Top 14, Round Ten

23rd Oct 2009, 22:18

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Stade Français v Perpignan: Not for the faint-hearted

Stade Français v Perpignan: Not for the faint-hearted

After a successful weekend in Europe, four of France's title contenders go head-to-head as Perpignan visit Paris and Biarritz travel to Toulouse.


A week after a highly successful weekend in Europe, four of France's domestic title contenders go head-to-head as Perpignan visit Paris and Biarritz travel to Toulouse.

Midweek, 70,000 tickets had already been sold at Stade de France for the visit of the defending champions while Ernest Wallon in Toulouse has been full for weeks.

Leaders Clermont will see this weekend as the perfect opportunity to open a gap on their championship rivals, although a trip to inconsistent Montpellier is not without its perils.

In fact five different teams could take the lead by the end of Saturday's programme.

Very few pundits would have predicted that Castres would be lying second after ten rounds, but they genuinely seem good value for their excellent start to the season. Whether or not they have the squad depth to push France's big games for the duration of the season remains to be seen. A trip to Bayonne on Friday will be a test of their credentials.

Elsewhere, Brive's off-season spending has failed to bear significant fruit and they will be under pressure to produce against Racing Métro, whose shopping has been somewhat more successful.

Toulon will back themselves to get the better of Bourgoin while Montauban will know they must produce the goods against Albi if they are to stay clear of the red zone.

Fixtures:
Friday, October 9
Bayonne v Castres

Saturday, October 10
Toulouse v Biarritz
Montpellier v Clermont
Toulon v Bourgoin
Montauban v Albi
Brive v Racing Métro
Stade Français v Perpignan


Standings:

1 Clermont 30
2 Castres 29
3 Biarritz 28
4 Perpignan 27
5 Toulouse 26
6 Stade Français 24
7 Toulon 21
8 Bourgoin 20
9 Racing Métro 19
10 Brive 18
11 Montauban 17
12 Bayonne 16
13 Montpellier 13
14 Albi 8
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Previews:

Friday, October 9

Aviron Bayonnais v Castres Olympique
Stade Jean Dauger, Bayonne

Bayonne will do well to maintain their unbeaten home record against a Castres side eyeing the top of the standings. Lying a surprising second after nine rounds, even Castres fans will concede that they've been given a relatively easy start to the season. The next four weeks however will be far tougher: Perpignan, Clermont, Toulouse and Biarritz are on the menu.

Back to this weekend where both sides come off the back of Challenge Cup wins. While Bayonne would have enjoyed taking a revenge win away to Racing, Castres stretched their legs against Rovigo, scoring 76 points after going down to Toulon a week earlier.

Castres did not play at full strength in Europe and, with fresh legs, will fancy their chances in Bayonne considering their hosts' loss to Albi a month ago.

Only Stade Français and Clermont have scored more tries than Bayonne but Richard Dourthe's side have failed to produce on the road.

Craig Gower and Salvatore Perugini returned to Bayonne on Wednesday after training with the Azzurri in Rome. Winger Pepito Elhorga has still not recovered from a torn thigh muscle and number eight Marc Baget's season is over because of a ruptured cruciate ligament.

For Castres, scrum-half Alexandre Albouy (calf), former All Black prop Carl Hoeft (calf) and South Africans Michael Coetzee (hamstring) and Daron Nell are missing.

Prediction: Tough one to call considering that in two games last season, just a single point separated these sides after they drew in Bayonne and the Basques won 27-26 in Castres. We'll back Castres to continue their solid start. Castres by three
Kick-off: 20:45 (18.45 GMT)
Referee: Mathieu Raynal
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Saturday, October 10

Stade Toulousain v Biarritz Olympique
Stade Ernest Wallon, Toulouse

Coming off the back of seven straight wins (in all competitions), Biarritz will head inland with plenty of confidence. Their demolition of Gloucester in the HEC was yet more proof that they will be one of the teams to beat this year, both domestically and in Europe.

Toulouse also seem to have hit a vein of form. Vincent Clerc repeatedly crossing the whitewash is an ominous sign for anyone set to face France's most successful club.

After finding their legs against Montpellier, impressive wins against Sale and Harlequins has given the Toulousains plenty of confidence, especially amongst the backs. The forwards have been smashing everything in their path this year, and with the fast men now coming to the party, Toulouse look dangerous.

The Basque visitors have however decided to rotate their squad and lock Jérôme Thion, who has played all of BO's eleven games this year, has been given a rest. Loose forward Magnus Lund and centre Damien Traille are also being kept on ice.

While the loss of loose forward Yannick Nyanga for six months is a huge blow for Toulouse, they do have a couple of players leaving the infermerie. International full-back Clément Poitrenaud has played a game with the youth side and is eager to pull on a first team jersey again. Centre Maleli Kunavore (broken arm) and lock Yohan Montès (hamstring) have started training again, but are not yet fit to take the field against Biarritz.

In other news, Biarritz's 'medical joker' Karmichael Hunt has arrived from the Brisbane Broncos. Judging by interviews so far, Hunt seems to be a no-nonsense kind of guy. He should fit in just fine at BO.

Prediction: Toulouse at home? Biarritz resting some key players? Toulouse to win by seven.
Kick-off: 14:15 (12.15 GMT)
Referee: Jean-Pierre Matheu
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Montpellier HRC v Clermont Auvergne
Stade Yves Du Manoir - Montpellier

Montpellier's up-and-down form seems destined to drag them into a long and difficult battle to avoid relegation. Their loss to Connacht with a below-strength side will be for less of a concern than their lowly place in the domestic standings.

That said, Montpellier have lost only once at home this season (to Toulouse) after upsetting Biarritz, Perpignan and Toulon. The Heraltais are yet to win on the road in the Top 14 this season, so they will be banking on their form at Yves Du Manoir.

Clermont, on the other hand, have been consistently good both home and away, in Europe and in France. Bar their blip in Perpignan, the Jaunards have once again been the benchmark this season and deserve their status as leaders. With Stade Français next up, they'll want to gain some momentum on Saturday.

Clermont centre Marius Joubert is crocked again. The South African has undergone the same groin operation that he did last year, putting him out for three months.

Lionel Faure, Thibaut Privat