Planet Rugby

Top 14 Preview: Round 21

11th March 2011 12:33

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Francois steyn Racing Biarritz

Clash of the weekend:Racing Metro visit Biarritz

With just five rounds of the regular season left to play the jostling in the queue for Top 14 play-off tickets is fiercer than ever.

The clash with the Six Nations this weekend means that many clubs will be without some of their stars. The 'B' champion is also on this weekend, meaning that the Georgian, Romanian and Portuguese internationals are added to the list of absentees.

Clermont are the most severely affected with nine players on international duty making their trip to Castres, who are unbeaten at home, a tough task.

The game of the weekend is in Biarritz, as second-placed Racing roll into town where the hosts will be under pressure to stay in the race for the a top six spot.

The action kicks off on Friday when Perpignan look to continued their rival at home to troubled Bayonne.

Toulouse will have to dig deep into their plentiful resources when they host Brive while Toulon will be looking for a bonus point against Bourgoin.

Relegation candidates Agen and La Rochelle face heavyweight challenges against Stade Français and Montpellier respectively.

Fixtures:

Friday, March 11
Perpignan v Bayonnais

Saturday, March 12
Biarritz v Racing Métro
Stade Français v Agen
Toulon v Bourgoin
La Rochelle v Montpellier
Toulouse v Brive
Castres v Clermont

Standings:

1 Toulouse 65
2 Racing Metro 62
3 Clermont 57
4 Montpellier 56
5 Castres 55
6 Biarritz 53
7 Bayonne 53
8 Toulon 50
9 Perpignan 50
10 Stade Français 44
11 Agen 33
12 Brive 31
13 La Rochelle 29
14 Bourgoin 5

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Previews:

USA Perpignan v Aviron Bayonnais
Stade Aimé Giral, Perpignan

Bayonne's players did well to steer clear of the club's political battles last week, but with vandals spraying anti-presidential slogans on the stadiums walls, the off-field strife has started to take it's toll with captain Marc Baget admitting they're fed up.

Things are much more positive in Perpignan where the Catalans have launched a late charge to rack up three straight victories to scramble their way back into play-off contention. A loss at home this week however would end those hopes.

After their strong win against Toulouse last week, Bayonne need another big performance to stay ahead of their hosts.

Perpignan welcome back Bertrand Guiry and Joffrey Michel from injury but Henry Tuilagi has been ruled out.

Previous result: Perpignan won 26-25 away
Prediction: USAP's home record is not a be scoffed at. Pepignan by five points
Kick-off: 20:45 (19.45 GMT)
Referee: Cédric Marchat

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Biarritz Olympique v Racing-Métro 92
Parc des Sports d'Aguilera, Biarritz

Biarritz almost threw four points away against La Rochelle last week and can't afford a similar lapse against a Racing side coming off the back of three consecutive wins. On the edge of the European qualification cut off the Basques are under pressure.

Racing meanwhile have been in great form on the road, picking up four wins so far and are looking to secure a top-two finish.

Biarritz have lost just once at home this season but will not be comforted by the memory of Racing's victory at Aguilera last season.

Racing are missing seven international players, including four Italians, and injured Juan Martin Hernandez but their hosts are in the same boat as the core of the BO team will be doing duty for les bleus.

Forwards Erik Lund and Pelu Taele have passed late fitness tests for Biarritz.

Previous result: Racing won 17-12 at home
Prediction: Tough one to call. We'll back the host to edge it. Biarritz by a whisker
Kick-off: 13.50 (12.50 GMT)
Referee: Franck Maciello

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Stade Français Paris v SU Agen
Stade Charléty, Paris

Stade Français don't have much left to play for after last week's loss to Perpignan. Or do they? The Parisians still have a mathematical possibility of sneaking through the back door and into the knock out stages, but anything less than a bonus-point win will signal the end of their domestic hopes.

Agen on the other hand are still fighting for their Top 14 lives. Having come within a point of winning in Montpellier a week ago, les Agenais will arrive in the capital full of confidence.

Previous result: Stade Français won 27-12 away
Prediction: Can the hosts lift themselves? We think so. Stade Français by five points
Kick-off: 14:00 (13.00 GMT)
Referee: Pascal Gauzere

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RC Toulon v CS Bourgoin-Jallieu
Stade Felix Mayol, Toulon

Since charging into the Heineken Cup quarter-finals, Toulon have struggled to repeat that form on the domestic front.

RCT did a lot of attacking for not much reward in Clermont last week but will take heart from an improved performance.

Les Varois need to cut out the mistakes however and a home fixture against the championship's bottom side should be the ideal opportunity to find some rhythm.

They'll do so without Gavin Henson, who having arrived in early February has still yet to make his debut and is not in the team this weekend.

Previous result: Toulon won 26-3 away
Prediction: No surprises here. Toulon to win with a bonus point
Kick-off:14:00 (13.00 GMT)
Referee: Sébastien Minery

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Stade Rochelais Atlantique v Montpellier HR
Stade Marcel Deflandre, La Rochelle

After turning heads in the early season, La Rochelle have struggled to maintain that momentum in the new year. Unable to win at home since upsetting Clermont back in November, les Maritimes are back in the relegation zone thanks to a four-match losing streak.

The smallest club in championship came desperately close to snatching a draw in Biarritz last Saturday so there is hope yet.

The task is not easy one however as Montpellier have been the surprise package of the season and are amongst the favourites to make it to the knock out stages.

Fabien Galthié's side, who must do without half backs François Trinh-Duc and Julien Tomas', struggled to get past Agen last week but will back themselves to repeat their easy win over La Rochelle earlier this season.

Galthié has extended his contract until 2014 an indication that he is unlikely to take over the national team after the World Cup.

Previous result: Montpellier won 26-6 at home
Prediction: It'll be close. Montpellier by three or four points
Kick-off:14:00 (13.00 GMT)
Referee: Patrick Pechambert

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Stade Toulousain v CA Brive Corrèze
Stade Ernest Wallon, Toulouse

Despite the return of their internationals and doing most of the attacking, Toulouse lost to Bayonne last weekend in Spain.

Back at home, les Toulousains are deprived of six internationals and scrum-half Nicolas Vergallo who has a fractured hand and will be sidelined for a month.

David Skrela also has thigh injury, meaning young Nicolas Bézy is sure to be involved alongside Frédéric Michalak.

Brive have won just twice in their last 12 league games and only once away from home all season. Toulouse is not the place to try turn that record around. Teetering on the edge of the relegation zone, even a losing bonus point will be very welcome for CABC.

Previous result: 16-all draw in Brive
Prediction: Toulouse at home? Toulouse to win by twelve points
Kick-off:14:00 (13.00 GMT)
Referee: Laurent Cardona

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Castres Olympique v ASM Clermont Auvergne
Stade Pierre Antoine, Castres

It took long enough, but Castres finally broke their duck on the road by winning in Brive last weekend. Unbeaten at Pierre-Antoine this season and largely unaffected by international call ups, CO have a great chance to take a step towards play-off and European qualification.

Victory at home to Toulon kept Clermont in the leading trio but the defending champions have been poor on the road this season.

Without nine front-line players l'ASM will do well to grab a losing bonus point and retain a place in the top six.

Previous result: Clermont won 24-6 at home
Prediction: On current form, we can't see the hosts losing this one. Castres to win by eight points
Kick-off:20:35 (19.35 GMT)
Referee: Patrice Frantschi

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