Planet Rugby

Top 14 Preview: Round Nine

01st October 2010 05:57

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Byron kelleher Sebastien Chabal toulouse racing

Clash of the big boys: Rcaing Metro visit Toulouse

Toulouse warm up for European competition against Racing-Métro this weekend while leaders Montpellier visit Stade Français in Paris.

For fans of a good old French dust-up, the Basque derby between Bayonne and Biarritz is the highlight of the month, never mind the weekend.

Toulon get the Round Nine rolling at home to Castres on Friday as Jonny Wilkinson and co. hope to continue their resurgence.

Elsewhere, Agen are in for a spanking in Clermont and La Rochelle are cruisin' for a bruisin' away to Perpignan while Bourgoin will try scrape a few points together at home to Brive.

This week's action will have a foreign accent as six referees have been flown in from across the channel and another from across the Alps.

Fixtures:

Friday, October 1

Toulon v Castres

Saturday, October 2

Bourgoin v Brive
Perpignan v La Rochelle
Clermont v Agen
Stade Français v Montpellier
Toulouse v Racing-Métro
Bayonne v Biarritz

Standings:

1 Montpellier 27
2 Racing Metro 27
3 Toulouse 23
4 Toulon 23
5 Bayonne 22
6 Perpignan 22
7 Clermont 19
8 Stade Français 19
9 Biarritz 19
10 Castres 18
11 Brive 17
12 La Rochelle 10
13 Agen 7
14 Bourgoin 6

Previews:

RC Toulon v Castres Olympique
Stade Felix Mayol, Toulon

Toulon are on an upward curve. After a shocker of a start to the season, three consecutive victories have seen RCT climb up to fourth in the standings.

Led by a Jonny Wilkinson in vintage form, Philippe Saint-André's squad have started to mix forward power with the flowing game their coach had promised as they find their rhythm.

If wins against Agen and Bourgoin were expected, welcoming Castres to the infamous Stade Felix Mayol will give a better indication of les Varois' true form.

Castres didn't get the result they had hoped for in Clermont last week, but they gave the champs a much closer game than the score suggests. Some poor finishing has ruined a lot of good work for Castres, who have yet for win away from home.

Down in tenth spot, les Castrais need to take at least a defensive bonus point from this game or risk losing contact with the leaders.

Toulon will be without strong-running centre Gabriele Lovobalavu, who has a rib injury, while fellow midfielder Mafileo Kefu is still suspended. Hooker Jean-Phillippe Genevois has yet to recover from a wrist injury.

Good news however is that lock Dean Schofield has returned to training. Both skipper Joe Van Niekerk and prop Laurent Emmanuelli, who were rested last week, are back in the squad.

Castres have rested scrum-half Sébastien Tillous-Bordes but second row Matthias Rolland is back.

Results last season: Castres won 21-19 at home; Toulon won 19-6 at home
Prediction: It's hard to imagine an in-form Toulon outfit losing at home (again). Toulon by nine points
Kick-off: 20:45 (18.45 GMT)
Referee: Andrew Small (England)

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CS Bourgoin-Jallieu v CA Brive Corrèze
Stade Pierre Rajon, Bourgoin

Bourgoin have no margin for error as their place in France's top flight comes under increasing pressure. If les Berjalliens are to avoid the drop, this is the kind of home game they must win.

The task won't be easy against a Brive side that drew with Toulouse last week after being on top a large parts of the match.

CABC are in a tight spot themselves as it's becoming clear that securing a place in Europe will be very difficult this season.

Results last season: 14-14 draw in Bourgoin; Brive won 25-15 at home
Prediction: No easy prediction here. Brive by a point or two
Kick-off: 14:30 (12.30 GMT)
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)

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USA Perpignan v Stade Rochelais Atlantique
Stade Aimé Giral, Perpignan

Winning in Bayonne last week was a massive result for Perpignan as the 2009 champions and losing finalists last year get their season back on track.

This weekend offers another opportunity for the Catalans to climb up the standings as few would wager on La Rochelle causing an upset on the Mediterranean coast.

More good news for Perpignan is the return of fly-half/scrum-half David Mélé and hooker Marius Tincu, who joined training again this week. Maxime Mermoz has a shoulder injury while Perry Freshwater is being rested.

Any points La Rochelle can pick up on the road will be invaluable in the relegation battle, but don't count on it this weekend, especially since midfield kingpin Seru Rabeni has been handed a ten-day suspension for picking up two yellow cards last week.

Prediction: No mystery here. Perpignan to win with a bonus point
Kick-off: 14:30 (12.30 GMT)
Referee: Carlo Damasco (Italy)

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ASM Clermont Auvergne v SU Agen
Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin, Clermont Ferrand

A week before kicking-off their European campaign against Saracens, Clermont will welcome the chance to stretch their legs against an Agen side that - in theory at least - shouldn't trouble the French champs.

Les Jaunards have yet to find the spark that earned them the title last season but got back to winning ways with a workman like performance against Castres last week. Seventh place in the standings is rare low for Vern Cotter's team, who will expected nothing less than a full house of points on Saturday.

Winless in their last five games, les Agenais travel to Clermont after heavily defeats to Toulon, Montpellier and Stade Français. Try-scoring wing Brice Dulin will not be available due to an ankle injury.

Clermont prop Thomas Domingo is a doubtful starter due to a neck injury.

Prediction: it should be one-way traffic. Clermont to win with a bonus point
Kick-off:14:30 (12.30 GMT)
Referee: James Jones (Wales)

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Stade Français Paris v Montpellier HR
Stade Charléty, Paris

Two years after an emotional farewell, Fabien Galthié returns to Paris to face his beloved Stade Français at the helm of the Top 14 leaders.

After two narrow defeats in as many weeks, Stade Français' vital victory in Agen last week did a lot for morale.

Michael Cheika's team are the championship's top try-scorers so far this term (level on 24 with Toulouse) which is interesting considering the Parisians' lowly standing. Their defence (the fourth worst) clearly needs attention.

Montpellier have been in irresistible form, having lost just once (to Clermont) in their last seven games. A trip to the capital will however represent a significant step up from recent games against Agen and La Rochelle.

The visitors have no serious injury worries and have been bolstered by the return of Portuguese lock Gonçalo Uva.

Results last season: Stade Français won 43-26 at home; Montpellier won 25-23 at home
Prediction: We reckon Stade will come good on home soil. Stade Français by five points
Kick-off:114:30 (12.30 GMT)
Referee: Peter Allan (Scotland)

________________________________________________________________________

Stade Toulousain v Racing-Métro 92
Stadium de Toulouse

The clash of the day is the perfect hors d'oeuvre ahead of the launch of European hostilities.

The defending Heineken Cup champions welcome the ambitious Parisians to the imposing Stadium as a warm up for their clash with Wasps next Sunday (Racing must travel to Dublin to face Leinster).

While Toulouse are unbeaten at home this season Racing have travelled well, picking up nine points from four road trips. It all makes for a mouthwatering encounter.

Racing arrive full of confidence off the back of three straights wins. The Franciliens have in fact won six times in eight starts to sit pretty the at the top of the standings.

"We're coming up strong, we're going there without pressure because there is no shame in losing in Toulouse," said Racing hardman Sébastien Chabal.

Of course, Racing coach Pierre Berbizier will have to watch from the stands after being suspended for shooting his mouth off about referee Christophe Berdos.

Toulouse full-back/wing Maxime Medard is the league's top try-scorer having already touched-down five times this season.

The visitors will be without playmaker Juan-Martin Hernandez but are hopeful Chabal will be fit to play after missing the last two matched due to a fractured rib.

Results last season: Racing won 27-20 at home; Toulouse won 28-23 at home
Prediction: We're not brave enough to bet against the Big Red Machine at home. Toulouse by three or four points
Kick-off:16:25
Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)

________________________________________________________________________

Aviron Bayonnais v Biarritz Olympique
Stade Jean Dauger, Bayonne

Nothing like a fierce local derby to finish the weekend and they don't get any fiercer than this. A sold-out stadium awaits the 93rd edition of the Basque derby as Biarritz travel all of six kilometres to face their old rivals.

Bayonne have enjoyed their strongest start to a season in years and the Jean Dauger faithful will be hoping L'Aviron can bounce back after the nail-biting one-point loss to Perpignan last week. Nothing like victory over the voisin biarrot to forget the past.

But Biarritz aren't looking too bad either: Defeat away to Racing Metro last week came after three consecutive wins. A trip across the river to Bayonne will give an indication of their readiness for the Heineken Cup.

Damien Traille has returned to training but will not be ready for Saturday's clash. He is however expected to be fit for BO's Heineken Cup opener against Bath.

Sam Gerber comes into the group to replace injured full-back Pepito Elorga, who has a sprained ankle.

Results last season: Biarritz won 12-6 at home; Bayonne won 15-0 at home
Prediction: Tough one to call. We'll go with home ground advantage. Bayonne by a whisker
Kick-off:20:45 (18.45 GMT)
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)

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