Top 14 Preview: Round 22

12th Mar 2010, 14:10

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The clash of the weekend: Perpignan v Biarritz

The clash of the weekend: Perpignan v Biarritz

There are six Top 14 clashes on Friday as Perpignan host struggling Biarritz while leaders Castres visit play-off hopefuls Toulon.

There are six Top 14 clashes on Friday as Perpignan play host to Biarritz while leaders Castres visit play-off hopefuls Toulon.

On the eve of the national side's clash with Italy, France's domestic league reaches the final straight with three teams facing the prospect of relegation and joining Albi in the drop to the ProD2

Montauban, Bayonne and Bourgoin have five games left to save their bacon.

Montauban look to be in the most trouble and must come up with something special at home to Racing Metro. Bayonne will be hoping to take advantage of the Six Nations weekend against an under-strength Clermont side. Bourgoin lead the trio and have arguably the easiest game of the weekend - albeit on the road - against Albi.

Stade Français have one last chance to revive their European and play-off qualification hopes against Brive, who are in a similar boat. The losers can forget about finishing in the top six.

Trailing the leaders by seven points, Toulouse know they need to continue the sprint for the line they started in Paris last week with another strong performance at home to Montpellier.

Fixtures:

Friday, March 12

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

Saturday, March 13

Montauban v Racing Metro

Standings:

1 Castres 67
2 Clermont 65
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3 Perpignan 62
4 Toulouse 60
5 Toulon 59
6 Racing Metro 55
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7 Stade Français 49
8 Biarritz 47
9 Brive 47
10 Montpellier 42
11 Bourgoin 40
12 Bayonne 39
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13 Montauban 37
14 Albi 19
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Previews:

Friday, March 12

RC Toulon v Castres Olympique
Stade Felix Mayol, Toulon

Two in-forms team lock horns at fortress Felix Mayol as Toulon clash with league leaders Castres for the fourth time this season after having been drawn in the same European Challenge Cup pool.

Toulon convincingly won both those European games while Castes narrowly won at home in the Top 14 back in October.

The home side have a near-full strength squad at their disposal with the only absentee being Jonny Wilkinson since Sébastien Bruno has recovered from a minor foot problem.

It took a last-gasp effort to get the better of Biarritz last week, but Toulon remain unbeaten at home.

"This (the home record) was one of my primary objectives when I arrived here (last summer from English club Sale)," said Toulon boss Philippe Saint-Andre.

"I wanted to impress on the players this enduring history of Stade Mayol being a fortress.

"It is easier said than done, but one tries to play an effective style, to be generous in attack, courageous, intelligent and disciplined."

However, while Saint-Andre is full of praise for Castres, conceding they are a better balanced, more powerful and mature side, he is desperate for his players not to take their foot off the pedal with a play-off place virtually within their grasp.

"Now is not the time to sit back smoke a cigar and relax eating chocolate," said Saint-Andre.

"We have been in contention for a place in the top six since the beginning of the season and it would be a crying shame to put a spanner in the works with just five games remaining."

Previous result: Castres won 21 - 19
Prediction: Off the back of three straight wins, Castres are looking to set themselves up for automatic qualification for the semi-finals, but Toulon look unstoppable at home. Toulon by six points
Kick-off: 19:00 (18.00 GMT)
Referee: Jérôme Garces
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Aviron Bayonnais v Clermont Auvergne
Stade Jean Dauger, Bayonne

Thanks to a bonus-point win against Albi last week, Bayonne put their heads above water but must raise their game once again as they host one of the League's biggest guns.

Just two points clear of the drop zone, the Basques are playing for survival, but the Six Nations schedule might just have thrown them a lifeline as Clermont travel west missing seven internationals.

But Bayonne don't have a great record at home against the heavy hitters: Castres, Toulon, Perpignan, Racing and Toulouse have all take four points from Stade Jean Dauger this season and the absence of Italy fly-half Craig Gower from the home side won't help them.

Previous result: Clermont won 38-13
Prediction:Bayonne's win in Montpellier two rounds ago was a sign of revival, so we'll back them to cause an upset. By a whisker
Kick-off: 19:00 (18.00 GMT)
Referee: Cyril Lafon
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Stade Toulousain v Montpellier HRC
Stade Ernest Wallon, Toulouse


After being upset by Toulon, Toulouse bounced back in the best possible manner by thumping Stade Français in Paris last Saturday.

Even without their Six Nations players, the Toulousains have the resources to mount a serious challenge for a place in the top two.

With Clermont and Castres both on the road this weekend Toulouse - like Perpignan - will know they have a golden opportunity to close the gap on the leaders.

But Guy Novès' team will do well not to underestimate a Montpellier side who have caused a few upsets this season and are in desperate need of points.

If a couple of results elsewhere don't go their way, Montpol could find themselves on the edge of the relegation zone at the end of the weekend.

Deprived of François Trinh-Duc but with Fulgence Ouedraogo leading the charge, les Montpelliérains will look to sneak a losing bonus point before another tough trip to Clermont.

Previous result: Toulouse won 12-30
Prediction: The Big Red Machine should be kicked into top gear at home. Toulouse to win by fifteen points
Kick-off: 19:00 (18.00 GMT)
Referee: Stephan Pomarede
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SCA Albi v CS Bourgoin-Jallieu
Stadium Municipal, Albi

Bourgoin enter the third week of a crucial period that could save them from relegation.

With two wins from their previous do-or-die battles against Bayonne and Montauban, les Berjalliens could take a huge step towards securing their survival against a side with nothing to lose but nothing much to gain.

After six straight losses, Albi have only a very far-fetched mathematical chance to avoid the drop. The ProD2 beckons for them, but can Bourgoin avoid it?

Previous result: Bourgoin won 26-16
Prediction: Considering Albi's negative spiral, we have to back the visitors. Bourgoin to win by seven
Kick-off:19:00 (18.00 GMT