Top 14 Preview: Round Nineteen

27th Jan 2010, 12:16

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Wednesday night lights: Racing Metro host Clermont

Wednesday night lights: Racing Metro host Clermont

With the dust barely settled after a European weekend, Clermont visit Racing on Wednesday while the Basque derby headlines on Thursday.

With the dust barely settled after the weekend's European action, Clermont visit Racing on Wednesday while the Basque derby headlines on Thursday.

With the Six Nations fast approaching, this week's fixtures have been moved forward to allow the French national team a few extra days to prepare at their headquarters at Marcoussis where they will gather on Friday.

When the teams met in Round Six, all the home teams came out on top. Four months later, expect most of those results to be reversed in the return leg.

Under-pressure Stade Français have the unenviable task of travelling to co-leaders Castres as the Parisians try to rescue their domestic season.

Toulon will fancy their chances of avenging their one-point defeat to Montpellier in September in front of their home fans while Brive will be looking to continue their revival (in the Top 14 at least) when they host Montauban.

On Thursday, revenge will be in the air in Perpignan when Bourgoin face the defending champions, who are still smarting from their early-season upset as well as their European elimination.

Toulouse will be chasing a bonus point in Abli before Bayonne and Biarritz bash each other in the always-bruising Basque derby, with both clubs' domestic seasons hanging in the balance.

Fixtures:

Wednesday, January 27

Racing Metro v Clermont
Toulon v Montpellier
Brive v Montauban
Castres v Stade Français

Thursday, January 28

Albi v Toulouse
Perpignan v Bourgoin
Bayonne v Biarritz

Standings:

1 Clermont 56
2 Castres 56
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3 Toulousain 50
4 Perpignan 50
5 Racing Metro 48
6 RC Toulon 46
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7 Stade Français 45
8 Biarritz 42
9 Brive 42
10 Montpellier 37
11 Montauban 32
12 CS Bourgoin31
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13 Bayonne 25
14 Albi 20
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Previews:

Racing-Métro 92 v Clermont Auvergne
Stade Yves Du Manoir - Colombes (Paris)

Just four days after running Viadana ragged in Europe, leaders Clermont face a stiffer challenge when they head to Paris to take on another in-form side.

Despite having nothing to play for, Racing dug deep to beat Wasps in the Challenge Cup on Thursday. After consecutive defeats to Bourgoin and Perpignan ended their nine-match winning streak, les Franciliens would obviously be looking to get their challenge for the play-offs back on track - no easy task against a free-scoring Clermont side bubbling with confidence.

Good news for the hosts however is Clermont's decision to rest skipper Aurélien Rougerie, prop Thomas Domingo, hooker Mario Ledesma, locks Jamie Cudmore and Thibault Privat and wing Napolioni Nalaga.

All of Racing's stars are fit for action (Nallet, Chabal, Steyn, Masi etc).

Previous result: Clermont won 30-22
Prediction:Clermont have strength in depth and should still be able to line up a fantastic side. Clermont by a whisker
Kick-off: 19:00 (18:00 GMT)
Referee: RFU Referee
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RC Toulon v Montpellier HRC
Stade Felix Mayol, Toulon

Toulon will be in high spirits after running six tries past Castres to qualify for the Challenge Cup quarter-finals. The Mayol faithful will now have their sights set on a play-off spot, which is on the cards if they can beat their visitors from down the Mediterranean cost.

Jonny Wilkinson is away at an England training camp in Portugal but Toulon are by no means short of firepower as Pumas playmaker Felipe Contepomi is set to wear number ten. Back row Fernandez Lobbe, scrum-half Pierre Mignoni and centre Sonny Bill Williams also return to the squad.

Montpellier have been in good form of late, claiming the scalps of Stade Français and Castres at home, but the question marks over the ability to travel remain. French internationals Francois Trinh-Duc and Fulgence Ouedraogo will start.

Previous result: Montpellier won 21-20
Prediction:The hosts are still unbeaten at fortress Mayol. Toulon to win by six points
Kick-off: 19:00 (18:00 GMT)
Referee: Laurent Cardona
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CA Brive-Corrèze v Montauban
Stade Amédée Domenech, Brive


After a massively disappointing European campaign - they didn't win a single game - Brive's hopes of salvaging their season lie in their slim, but realistic, chances of making the Top 14 play-offs.

Off the back of wins against Toulouse, Perpignan and Albi the Corréziens have a golden opportunity to throw their name into the play-offs hat, especially considering that rivals Stade Français and Biarritz have tricky away matches.

Of course it'll all mean nothing if they can't beat a Montauban side that has won just once in seven games.

Brive welcome back recently called-up France squad members Alexis Palisson and Fabrice Estebanez after they were rested for the Scarlets' visit last weekend.

Previous result: Montauban 23-20
Prediction:Montauban will be happy with a loisng bonus point. Brive to win by ten points
Kick-off: 19:00 (18:00 GMT)
Referee: Stephan Pomarede
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Thursday, January 28

Castres Olympique v Stade Français
Stade Pierre Antoine, Castres

If Stade Français play with the same boring predictability they did in Edinburgh on Saturday, they have little chance of picking up points in Castres. Coach Jacques Delmas has been reading the riot act all week as another defeat could see the Parisians fall off the pace in the play-offs race.

Despite setting the pace for most of the season so far, only one Castres player (prop Luc Ducalcon) has made France's Six Nations squad, meaning the Tarnais are a solid bet to finish the regular season in the top two. Off the back of an away loss to Montpellier in the Top 14 and Toulon (albeit with a below-strength team) in the Amlin Challenge, the co-leaders will be out to rebuild some momentum.

The form stats don't look good for the Stade Français who have yet to win on the road this year (although they have picked up four draws) while Castres are unbeaten at home.

At least the Parisians will have a specialist scrum-half, for a change, after young Benjamin Tardy was unable to play in the Heineken Cup. Hugo Southwell should move back to full-back.

Previous result:Stade Français won 44-18
Prediction:Stade might be desperate, but the numbers don't lie. Castres by five points.
Kick-off:20:45 (19:45 GMT)
Referee: Patrick Pechambert
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SCA Albi v Stade