Preview: Top 14, Round Fifteen

04th Dec 2009, 21:43

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Wilko back in Paris: Racing host Toulon

Wilko back in Paris: Racing host Toulon

Toulon visit Racing Métro as the Top 14's new kids on the block join the race for the play-offs while Bayonne go to the Stade de France.

Toulon visit Racing Métro on Saturday as the Top 14's new kids on the block join the race for the play-offs while Bayonne make a trip to the Stade de France.

Surprise championship leaders Castres will look to cement their place at the top of the standings on the road in Bourgoin while Toulouse, Perpignan and Biarritz reload their guns in preparation for next weekend's Heineken Cup action.

Of course all of this depends on the clubs in question remaining healthy. The latest estimates reckon there are over one million H1N1 cases in France, with a new drug-resistant strain of the virus already responsible for two deaths. Nothing like a scrum or a maul to spread infection...Perpignan's late cancellation of their match in Bayonne last week and Brive putting their players in quarantine are signs of trouble.

The other news this week was Maxime Mermoz being awarded the Oscar d'or, the equivalent of player of the year.

Back to the action and a quick glance at the standings revels two clubs in desperate need of a win this weekend. Giants Stade Français and Biarritz lie seventh and eighth respectively - outside of the play-offs.

The Parisians face a tough challenge against Bayonne in front of 70 000 spectators at the Stade de France, where they haven't won in five games. Biarritz however will back themselves away to Albi. For both teams the return of their internationals could not have come at a better time.

Montauban host Clermont in Friday's match, hoping to build on their encouraging 17-12 defeat to Toulouse, who travel to Brive on Sunday.

Toulouse v Brive has been moved from Saturday to Sunday due to the H1N1 outbreak in Brive.

Fixtures:

Friday, December 4

Montauban v Clermont

Saturday, December 5
Bourgoin v Castres
Perpignan v Montpellier
Stade Français v Bayonne

Sunday, December 6

Albi v Biarritz
Brive v Toulouse
Racing Metro v Toulon

Standings:

1 Castres 46
2 Perpignan 41
3 Clermont 41
4 Toulouse 40
5 Racing Metro 39
6 Toulon 38
7 Stade Français 33
8 Biarritz 33
9 Brive 29
10 Montpellier 29
11 Montauban 26
12 Bayonne 23
13 Bourgoin 23
14 Albi 15
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Previews:
Friday, December 4

Montauban TG v Clermont Auvergne
Stade Sapiac, Montauban

After smashing Bourgoin by nearly 30 points last week (and ending a four-match win-less streak in the process) Clermont have bounced back to second in the standings, regaining some confidence at the same time.

They've also regained their internationals - but only France scrum-half Morgan Parra will play as Head Coach Vern Cotter has given players like Julien Bonnaire, Thomas Domingo, Martin Scelzo and Jason White a rest. Napolioni Nalaga is also missing with a hand injury.

For Montauban, it's not the best time to be hosting a heavyweight even though Puma Alejandro Campos is back. Three matches without a win have seen MTGXV slip to eleventh in the standings. Another loss and they could be deep in the relegation battle

Previous result:Clermont won 37-16
Prediction: It's unlikely that Clermont will storm Sapaic, but they should have enough to win. Clermont by five
Kick-off:20:45 (19:45 GMT)
Referee:Pascal Gauzere
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Saturday, December 5

CS Bourgoin-Jallieu v Castres Olympique
Stade Pierre Rajon, Bourgoin

Impressive in the manner in which they dispatched Toulouse and Biarritz in the last two weeks, Castres will be looking for five more points against struggling Bourgoin.

Chris Masoe has been in barnstorming form for les Tarnais, whose no-frills rugby is proving very hard to match.

Les Berjalliens haven't won in five games and look like favourites to be relegated with Albi. The financial situation at CSBJ is once again causing an unwelcome distraction and Bourgoin fans will be praying for a miracle.

Previous result: Castres won 29-9
Prediction: Stade Pierre Rajon has been trap for a couple of big teams this year, but the way Castres are going, they don't look like stopping. Castres to win by ten
Kick-off:14:30 (13:30 GMT)
Referee: Jean Pierre Matheu
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USA Perpignan v Montpellier HRC
Stade Aimé Giral, Perpignan

Unbeaten at home this season, Perpignan will be looking to get the train moving again after missing last week's trip to Bayonne because of a swine 'flu outbreak in their ranks.

Having most of their squad in quarantine at the start of the week wouldn't have been the ideal preparation for the champions, but they do welcome back their internationals as they look to close the gap on the leaders. They started training again on Wednesday - behind closed doors. Maxime Mermoz is still out injured though.

Montpellier represent a healthy test of Perpignan's mid-season form considering the Héraultais won their meeting in Round two. The loss of captain Fulgence Ouedraogo is massive blow for Montpol but the return of France fly-half François Trinh-Duc will add to their attack.

After four straight wins, Montpellier were thrashed at home to Brive last week, so some regrouping is needed.

Previous result:Montpellier won 18-12
Prediction: Montpellier will be hoping for a losing bonus point. Perpignan by ten points.
Kick-off:16:25 (15:25 GMT)
Referee: Akim Hadj Bachir

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Stade Français v Aviron Bayonnais
Stade de France, Paris

Stade Français, who suffered defeats to Parisian rivals Racing-Metro and then Toulon during the November internationals, host Bayonne at the Stade de France with more than 70,000 tickets already sold for the event. Owner Max Guazzini has once again set up plenty of fanfare.

Stade Français coach Jacques Delmas' honeymoon period is over and he'll be hoping the return of eleven players from international duty (Marconnet, Szarzewski, Dupuy, Mirco and Mauro Bergamasco and Roncero) and injury (Palmer, Burban, Leguizamon, Beauxis and Camara) will revive the Parisian giants' fortunes.