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Top 14 Preview: Round 17

26th January 2011 09:48

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Lionel Beauxis looking offload against La Rochelle

Off to Toulouse? Lionel Beauxis

Rugby in France reconvenes this Wednesday with a mouth-watering match-up in the Auvergne before a six-game schedule hits Thursday.

In case you were otherwise engaged this past week, the final round of the Heineken Cup Pools showed that Top 14 outfits are in good health.

Perpignan, Toulon, Biarritz and Toulouse made the cut with the second and fourth named travelling to the other two in the last-eight, meaning two French sides will be in the semis.

Quite a fillip for the country going into the Six Nations, and Marc Lièvremont will be further encouraged that he is not in the same injury boat as both England and Wales. The Irish are also struggling - mostly in the full-back area - while Ulster winger Andrew Trimble has been ruled out of Ireland's opener. Stephen Ferris and Tommy Bowe both wait.

So what of Round 17? Well, Clermont and Racing-Métro open things up in what will be a cracker of a match at Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin, before Thursday's line-up has two games jump out from the page; they are Biarritz against ninth-placed Stade Français and current leaders Toulouse playing host to Montpellier.

Fixtures:

Wednesday, January 26
Clermont v Racing-Métro

Thursday, January 27
Brive v Bayonne
Toulon v La Rochelle
Agen v Bourgoin
Castres v Stade Français
Biarritz v Perpignan
Toulouse v Montpellier

Standings:

1 Toulouse 51
2 Racing Métro 49
3 Montpellier 47
4 Biarritz 44
5 Clermont 44
6 Toulon 41
7 Castres 41
8 Bayonne 40
9 Stade Français 40
10 Perpignan 35
11 La Rochelle 26
12 Brive 26
13 Agen 24
14 Bourgoin 5

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Previews:

ASM Clermont Auvergne v Racing-Métro 92
Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin, Clermont Ferrand

They meet again. It is 2-1 to the Parisians at the moment from their Heineken Cup and Top 14 fixtures with all three games going the way of the home side.

Clermont are unbeaten at home this term so will be pretty confident of turning over Pierre Berbizier's side, even with some off-the-field midweek needle.

Reports in France have revealed that Clermont vice-president Jean-Marc Lhermet suggested that Racing have been declaring player wages to the FFR that do not add up, which has sparked an angry comeback from Berbizier who was enraged, saying Lhermet is in no uncertain terms a brown nose to the federation.

Squad news for Wednesday's fixture sees the return of internationals Sebastien Chabal, Lionel Nallet and Juan Martin Hernandez who should slot into Racing's starting line-up. Francois Steyn is also back in the mix, however, fly-half Jonathan Wisniewski is ruled out due to a suspension. Meanwhile, Clermont are missing number ten Brock James, number eight Sione Lauaki, full-back Anthony Floch and tighthead prop Davit Zirakashvili.

Previous result: Racing won 28-17 at home
Prediction: Home advantage to again have a say. Clermont by seven points!
Kick-off: 21.00 (20.00 GMT)
Referee: Romain Poite
Assistant referees: Bernard Dal Maso, Jean-Luc Gonzalez
Assessor: Jean-Paul Grellety
Television match official: Jean-Pierre Pellaprat

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CA Brive Corrèze v Aviron Bayonnais
Stade Amédée Domenech, Brive

Brive head into their meeting with the league's eighth-placed side encouraged by their unbeaten record in the second tier of European rugby.

Yet their visitors will have their own reason to be confident too as they have lost just one of last five in this competition, a run that included beating Stade Français away from home.

Previous result: Bayonne won 19-18 at home
Prediction: We fancy Brive to sneak this by four points!
Kick-off: 19:30 (18.30 GMT)
Referee: Cédric Marchat
Assistant referees: Stephan Pomarède, Patrick Dellac
Assessor: Marc Daroque, Patrick Robin
Television match official: Laurent Valin

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RC Toulon v Stade Rochelais Atlantique
Stade Felix Mayol, Toulon

This may not be the cakewalk that many would predict as the big-spenders struggled a great deal in the reverse fixture at Stade Marcel Deflandre. That clash was won 15-13 in the end by Toulon and on home soil this time around one would expect a different story.

Well maybe not as Philippe Saint-Andre has a few injury concerns, with Mafi Kefu doubtful, inspirational captain Joe van Niekerk unlikely to feature due to a thigh problem while hooker Sebastien Bruno is struggling with a shoulder problem.

In other team news, England number ten Jonny Wilkinson has travelled to Portugal to be with his international team-mates and is therefore unavailable for selection.

Previous result: Toulon won 15-12 away
Prediction: The hosts should be too strong. Toulon by 15!
Kick-off: 19:30 (18.30 GMT)
Referee: Eric Gauzins
Assistant referees: Akim Hadj Bachir, Bruno Fiche
Assessor: Patrice Frantschi, Patrick Thomas
Television match official: Philippe Bonhoure

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SU Agen v CS Bourgoin-Jallieu
Stade Armandie, Agen

Make no bones about it, this one will be a scrap as the bottom two clash. Bourgoin are currently languishing on just five points following their earlier docking while Agen are sitting on 24, two points off Brive and La Rochelle who are in eleventh and twelfth respectively.

Despite winning just one of the Amlin Challenge Cup fixtures, there is some encouragement for Bourgoin as Agen are one of only two teams that they have beaten in the domestic competition all season. But that has failed to have the desired respect being paid by Agen president Alain Tingaud, who didn't mix his words in saying that if his charges can't beat Bourgoin then they don't deserve to be in the Top 14. Has he done Bourgoin's team-talk?

Previous result: Bourgoin won 22-15 at home
Prediction: Agen should have this by 8 points!
Kick-off: 19:30 (18.30 GMT)
Referee: Pascal Gauzere
Assistant referees: David Rosich, Didier Dussaut
Assessor: Jean-Marie Peyramaure, Joël Dumé
Television match official: Eric Soulan

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Castres Olympique v Stade Français Paris
Stade Pierre Antoine, Castres

Despite falling to their first home loss this season in all competitions, Castres will be desperate to defend their unbeaten Top 14 run at Stade Pierre Antoine on Thursday.

That negative to Saints stung and life won't get much easier when they face Stade Français, who are on a serious run of form. Michael Cheika's outfit have won all of their Amlin Challenge Cup fixtures thus far and also climbed the ladder with wins in their last three domestic games.

Form is definitely with the visitors then, particularly as Castres have been beaten in their last two Top 14 fixtures - away to both Toulouse and Bayonne.

Previous result: Stade Français won 40-34 at home
Prediction: Stade Français to sneak it by 3!
Kick-off: 19:30 (18.30 GMT)
Referee: Laurent Cardona
Assistant referees: Laurent Sclafer, Gérard Gacon
Assessor: Michel Roger, Michel Lamoulie
Television match official: Hervé Dubes ________________________________________________________________________

Biarritz Olympique v USA Perpignan
Parc des Sports d'Aguilera, Biarritz

Two in-form outfits meet in the Basque country on Thursday as both BO and USAP run out safe in the knowledge that they are through to Europe's last eight.

However it is a different story domestically as Perpignan are lying in tenth position, which will not please their adoring supporters one bit. And the form book doesn't help them either as they have failed to win in Biarritz since 1945!

It will be quite an ask to end that extended run of poor results but one that their forward pack can help them do as both Henry Tuilagi and Guilhem Guirado are in serious form on the back of their Heineken Cup cruise against the Scarlets.

Previous result: Perpignan won 17-12 at home
Prediction: BO to have this one by 6!
Kick-off: 19:30 (18.30 GMT)
Referee: Patrick Pechambert
Assistant referees: Bruno Bessot, Dominique Parrini
Assessor: Joël Bernard, Joël Jutge
Television match official: Jean-Marie Piraveau

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Stade Toulousain v Montpellier HR
Stade Ernest Wallon, Toulouse

Reports in Monday's Midi Olympique have suggested that Stade Français fly-half Lionel Beauxis is poised to make the move to rivals Toulouse next season. That possibility does not bode well for regular number ten David Skrela, who was unfortunately not at his best against Wasps in their Heineken Cup loss last week.

Toulouse are another side to still remain unbeaten on their home patch this term, but Montpol head into this one with a freshened up first team after opting to rest their big guns for their final Challenge Cup fixture, which was a narrow 32-30 victory against Exeter.

Previous result: Montpellier won 22-21 at home
Prediction: Surely not back-to-back defeats? Toulouse by 7!
Kick-off: 20:45 (19.45 GMT)
Referee: Mathieu Raynal
Assistant referees: Sébastien Cloute, Frédéric Gourgues
Assessor: Jean-Marie Combe, Bernard Perez
Television match official: Vincent Azoulay

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