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Top 14 Preview: Round 20

09th March 2012 09:42

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Perpignan s Damien Chouly C vies with Toulon s Sebastien Tillous bourde

Fighting for survival: Perpignan host Toulon

With just seven rounds of the regular season left to play, Perpignan are fighting for Top 14 survival as they host Toulon on Saturday.

Indeed the focus will be on the tail end of the standings this weekend as Brive look to secure their place in the top flight in a relegation scrap in Biarritz.

At the other end of the table, fourth-placed Castres have the unenviable task of travelling to leaders Toulouse while Agen will look to continue their push for a place in the Heineken Cup at home to a depleted Clermont side.

Elsewhere, play-off contenders Racing Métro and Montpellier face potential banana peel clashes against Bordeaux-Bègles and Bayonne respectively.

Fixtures:

Friday, March 9
Racing Métro v Bordeaux-Bègles

Saturday, March 10
Toulouse v Castres
Agen v Clermont
Biarritz v Brive
Montpellier v Bayonne
Stade Français v Lyon
Perpignan v Toulon

Rugby Union betting odds

Standings:

1 Toulouse 69
2 Clermont 65
3 Toulon 56
4 Castres 50
5 Montpellier 48
6 Racing Metro 45
7 Agen 44
8 Stade Français 42
9 Bordeaux Begles 37
10 Brive 37
11 Perpignan 32
12 Biarritz 30
13 Bayonne 30
14 Lyon 26


Previews:

Racing-Métro 92 v Union Bordeaux-Bègles
Stade Yves Du Manoir - Colombes (Paris)

After a four-game winless run, Racing have bagged two on the trot and will fancy their chances of a third at home to the Top 14 newcomers.

With Agen breathing down their necks, Racing are searching for points in the race for the play-offs but will need to improve on shaky performances against Lyon and Bayonne.

Bordeaux-Bègles were sitting pretty a few weeks ago but three consecutive losses - including heavy defeats in Toulon and Biarritz - have reawakened the threat of relegation.

Racing-Métro have made five changes to their team as Frans Steyn returns to the midfield and Mathieu Loree starts at scrum-half.

Lionel Nallet, Mirco Bergamasco and Andrea Lo Cicero are away on Six Nations duty.

Racing-Métro: 15 Gaetan Germain, 14 Sireli Bobo, 13 Frans Steyn, 12 Fabrice Estebanez, 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Juan Martin Hernandez, 9 Mathieu Loree, 8 Jacques Cronje, 7 Bernard Le Roux, 6 Johnny Leo'o, 5 Francois Carl Van der Merwe, 4 Santiago Dellape, 3 Benjamin Salemane Sa, 2 Thomas Bianchin, 1 Julien Brugnaut.
Replacements: 16 Benjamin Noirot, 17 Eddy Ben Arous, 18 Karim Ghezal, 19 Jone Qovu, 20 Sebastien Descons, 21Henry Chavancy, 22 Alvaro Galindo, 23 Juan Pablo Orlandi.

Bordeaux-Bègles: 15 Bruce Reihana, 14 Vunga Lilo, 13 Andrew Mailei, 12 Julien Rey, 11 Blair Connor, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Heini Adams, 8 Matthew Clarkin, 7 Hugh Chalmers, 6 Justin Purll, 5 Adam Jaulhac, 4 Daniel Leo, 3 Bees Roux, 2 Ole Avei, 1 Hikairo Forbes.
Replacements: 16 Fabien Rofes, 17 Laurent DelBoulbes, 18 Cameron Treloar, 19 Louis-Benoit Madaule, 20 Julien Seron, 21 Gerard Fraser, 22 Rafael Carballo, 23 Patrick-Albert Toetu.

Previous result Bordeaux won 22-18 at home
Prediction: UBB have claimed some big scalps this season but generally been poor on the road. Racing by ten points
Kick-off: 20.45 (19.45 GMT)
Referee: Sébastien Cloute


Stade Toulousain v Castres Olympique
Stade Ernest Wallon, Toulouse

Fourth plays first in the derby des Midi-Pyrénées.

Just three teams have managed to beat Toulouse this season, one of them being Castres. However no one has been able to upset the champions at home and even though Castres have won four times on the road this season their dour draw to last-placed Lyon last week does not suggest they'll have the beating of the Bid Red Machine. In fact, a slip in form has seen Castres win just two of their last five games.

Toulouse meanwhile will be looking to bounce back from defeat in Clermont last week - their first in 12 games - which saw their lead at the top of the standings cut to four points.

Toulouse didn't play their strongest available team in Clermont so expect Luke McAlister to be promoted from the bench.

In contract news, young playmaker Nicolas Bézy has confirmed his departure at the end of the season as he seeks more game time elsewhere.

Previous result: Castres won 24-3 at home
Prediction: Castres have won in Toulouse just once in 15 years. Toulouse by fourteen points
Kick-off: 13.45 (12.15 GMT)
Referee: Laurent Cardona


SU Agen v ASM Clermont Auvergne
Stade Armandie, Agen

Off the back of two wins at home, Agen will have one eye on a place in the top six, synonymous with a European berth and the play-offs.

Having practically assured their place in the semi-finals, Clermont travel without pressure but will be missing no less than fourteen players through international call ups and injury.

Les Jaunards are unbeaten in eight games but travel to Stade Armandie - where they have lost on their previous two visits - with a young-looking side.

Previous result: Clermont won 29-13 at home
Prediction: Clermont have not been convincing in their last two games on the road but they still have the best attack in France. It'll be tight. Clermont by a whisker
Kick-off: 14.15 (13.15 GMT)
Referee: Pascal Gauzere


Biarritz Olympique v CA Brive Corrèze
Parc des Sports d'Aguilera, Biarritz

Biarritz did their survival hopes the world of good last week as Dimitri Yachvili returned to guide the Basques to their first bonus-point win of the season against Bordeaux.

But the job is far from done as BO are level on points with Bayonne, who sit in the relegation zone. President Serge Blanco will expect confirmation of their revival against a Brive side who have not won at Aguilera in the last decade.

The visitors will not lack for motivation though as they too are fighting to avoid the drop. Despite having won three of their last four games, les Corréziens find themselves in the bizarre situation of having a positive points difference but have lost as many games as bottom side Lyon.

It's a sign of Brive's solid defence, which should worry Biarritz, who have one or the poorest attacks in the league. But with Yachvili back, the Basques will believe that anything is possible.

Previous result: Brive won 32-7 at home
Prediction: It will be close but Biarritz finally seem to have found some momentum. Biarritz by less than seven points
Kick-off: 14.15 (13.15 GMT)
Referee: Cédric Marchat


Montpellier HR v Aviron Bayonnais
Stade Yves Du Manoir, Montpellier

After winning eight out of nine games, Montpellier's winning streak came to grinding halt in Toulon last week. Les Montpelliérains desperately missed the creative magic of François Trinh-Duc but will have to do without him once again as he sits on the bench at the Stade de France in Sunday's Six Nation's clash with England.

Bayonne have yet to win away from home this season, in fact the Basques have only managed three losing bonus point on the road.

But the point garnered in Paris last week will give les Bayonnais hope as they came within inches of upsetting Racing Metro. Indeed their record of one win in nine starts belies their recent strong form, which saw the hold high-flying Clermont to a draw.

The visitors will also take heart from the fact that they have won on their last two visits to Montpol.

Previous result: Montpellier won 26-17 in Bayonne
Prediction: Bayonne will travel west with realistic ambitions of victory but could fall just short. Montpellier by five points
Kick-off: 14.15 (13.15 GMT)
Referee: Salem Attalah


Stade Français Paris v Lyon Olympique
Stade Charléty, Paris

After yet another loss on the road last week, Stade Français find themselves with zero margin for error if they are to make the play-offs.

The Parisians are unbeaten at home this season but have been a Jekyll-and-Hyde team as away from home they've been woeful. Including the draw to Toulon a fortnight ago, Stade are winless in four games, promoting a drop to eighth in the standings.

Despite having the worst defensive record in France, Michael Cheika's team will expect to beat Lyon, who have really struggled to score tries this term.

Last season's Pro D2 champions did well to scrape a 6-all draw in Castres last weekend but are likely to be outgunned in the capital

Previous result: Lyon won 18-6 at home
Prediction: You can't argue with the hosts' home record. Stade Français by twelve points.
Kick-off: 14.15 (13.15 GMT)
Referee: Christophe Berdos


USA Perpignan v RC Toulon
Stade Aimé Giral, Perpignan

The weekend's last game sees a Mediterranean derby between two sides with very different ambitions. While Toulon are looking to secure a home play-off, Perpignan are fighting to keep their place in the top division.

Just two points clear of the relegation zone, Perpignan's Heineken Cup quarter-final win over Toulon last year must seems like an age ago for the struggling Catalans.

The 38-0 thrashing in Toulon earlier in the season is an illustration of just how badly the wheels have come off.

Stade Aimé-Giral was once an impenetrable fortress but USAP have lost four of their last six games at home. There were some positive signs in Agen last week, but once again Perpignan were their own worst enemies, failing to capitalise on their chances and were sent home with a simple losing bonus point.

Toulon by contrast are in a rich vein of form and look set to host a play-off. RCT will fancy a repeat of their 29-20 win in Perpignan last year.

Les Varois will however travel without Bakkies Botha, Jonny Wilkinson, Benjamin Lapeyre and Davit Kubriashvili.

Perpignan welcome back Kévin Boulogne, Grégory Le Corvec, Rudy Coetzee, Perry Freshwater and Farid Sid but will have to do without Six Nations participants James Hook, Nicolas Mas and Maxime Mermoz.

Previous result: Toulon won 38-0 at home
Prediction: Toulon are looking very solid these days. Toulon by five points
Kick-off: 20.45 (19.45 GMT)
Referee: Patrick Pechambert

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