Preview: Top 14, Round Seventeen

02nd Jan 2010, 11:45

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Clermont v Toulon: Two in-form teams collide

Clermont v Toulon: Two in-form teams collide

Clermont host Toulon in the pick of Sunday's clashes while Stade Français must travel to Montauban in the midst of a scrum-half crisis.

Clermont host Toulon in the pick of Sunday's clashes while Stade Français must travel to Montauban in the midst of a scrum-half crisis.

Once again the strength in depth of a number of squads will be tested as the Top 14 gears up it's second round of fixtures this week.

After demolishing Brive in a seven-try rout on Wednesday, second-placed Clermont host an in-form Toulon side looking to secure a play-off spot.

Stade Français are lagging behind in the race to make the top six and hence the play-offs. The Parisians visit the cauldron that is Sapiac in Montauban without either of their first-team scrum-halves.

With Julien Dupuy suspended for six months, Stade were dealt a severe blow on Wednesday when Noël Oelschig broke his hand, ruling him out for six weeks. Owner Max Guazzini is reluctant to spend any more money on a replacement so youngsters Benjamin Tardy (21) and Charlie Davies (19) will have to mature very quickly.

As we enter the last third of the season, Bayonne are in massive trouble as they sink ever deeper in the relegation quagmire. With Toulouse rolling into town on Sunday, things look bleak on the Basque coast.

On the other side of the river, in Biarritz, the pressure is also mounting as BO still trail Toulon by five points, meaning qualification for both Europe and the play-offs is fast becoming a major concern. Points at home to Montpellier are desperately needed.

Elsewhere, high-flying Racing Metro will back themselves to extend their winning streak to ten games when they host Bourgoin while champions Perpignan will be looking for a rare away win in Brive.

Castres have a golden opportunity to extended their lead at the top of the standings at home to basement tenants Albi.

In news from the ProD2, Mont de Marsan have been docked five points for financial irregularities.

Fixtures:

Sunday, January 3

Castres v Albi
Racing Metro v Bourgoin
Montauban v Stade Français
Brive v Perpignan
Biarritz v Montpellier
Clermont v Toulon
Bayonne v Toulouse

Standings:

1 Castres 51
2 Clermont 47
3 Racing Metro 47
4 Toulouse 45
5 Perpignan 45
6 Toulon 42
7 Stade Français 39
8 Biarritz 37
9 Brive 33
10 Montpellier 33
11 Montauban 30
12 Bourgoin 27
13 Bayonne 24
14 Albi 19

Previews:

Castres Olympique v SCA Albi
Stade Pierre Antoine, Castres

Top hosts bottom as Castres rub their hands at the prospect of a bonus point.

With the hosts unbeaten at Stade Pierre Antoine and Albi yet to win on the road this season, it's tough to see the result going any other way than in the Castres' favour.

The Tarnais impressively cruised past Montauban on Wednesday while Albi competed well but were outclassed in Toulon.

Previous result: Castres won 25-21
Prediction: Looks like a no-brainer. Castres to win by fifteen, at least
Kick-off: 15:00 (14.00 GMT)
Referee: Franck Maciello
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Racing Metro 92 v CS Bourgoin-Jallieu
Stade Yves Du Manoir - Colombes (Paris)

Not long ago, when Racing were wallowing in the relegation zone, it would have been unimaginable to think that les Franciliens would he aiming to equal Toulouse's record of eleven straight Top 14 wins.

A betting man would back the Parisian side to rack up number ten on Sunday, but they'll face a much harder challenge when they go to Perpignan next week.

Back to the match at hand as Bourgoin head to the capital in search of their first away win this season.

While Bourgoin won 17-13 the last team the teams met, a repeat seems unlikely with the hosts play a ruthlessly efficient brand of rugby these days.

Pierre Berbizier's side haven't exactly been exciting as they've ground out a series of narrow wins, with the majority of their points coming from the kicking tee, but one can't argue with their results.

Racing wing Sireli Bobo is a doubtful starter with a thigh injury as is full-back Brent Ward, who has stitches in his left hand.

Previous result: Bourgoin won 17-13
Prediction: We'll back the host to make it ten in a row. Racing by eight points.Kick-off: 15:00 (14.00 GMT)
Referee: Laurent Cardona
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Montauban v Stade Français
Stade Sapiac, Montauban

Still without a single away win this season, Stade Français must visit one of the most intimidating venues in France as they seek revenge for Montauban's shock 40-35 win in Paris in September.

Coach Jacques Delmas read the riot act after his team threw away a fourteen-point lead in twenty minutes to lose in Montpellier on Wednesday, pointing a finger at their poor kicking in the last quarter. And justly so. Stade should have put their opposition away. Sadly that has been their problem all season as double try-scorer Geoffroy Messina admitted after the Montpellier disaster.

"When you lead by fourteen points you cannot hide behind the referee," said Delmas.

"We just let everything go, we simply lacked ambition and the boys refused to play.

"We gave away too much ball. There were too many bad choices made by us."

The Parisians remain France's best attack (412 points), with Mark Gasnier the league's top try-scorer charts with six touchdowns, but that leaky defence needs attention.

In addition to their scrum-half problems, Stade Français flank Mauro Bergamasco has joined Sergio Parisse on the injury list with a sprained knee.

Montauban are in a spot of bother themselves. While their win of Clermont early in December would have been encouraging, the prospect of playing five of their next seven matches on the road will be a worry considering they are just six points clear of the red zone.

Montauban have been boosted by the news that loose forward Emmanuel Etien has recovered from a shoulder injury fast enough to be fit to start.

Previous result: Montauban won 40-35
Prediction:We'll stick our necks out and back the hosts. Montauban by a whisker
Kick-off: 15:00 (14.00 GMT)
Referee: Jean-Pierre Matheu
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CA Brive-Corrèze v USA Perpignan
Stade Amédée Domenech, Brive


Perpignan's season is in danger of being derailed after they slipped to fifth in the standings following Wednesday's defeat in Toulouse.

In fairness to the Catalans the scoreline at the Stadium de Toulouse was not a true reflection of a game they dominated for large parts.

But their form on the road is becoming a real concern. Losses away to Albi, Bourgoin and Treviso are not what you'd expect from the champions of France and on Sunday they face another tough