Top 14 Preview: Round 22

30th Mar 2012, 09:56

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Crowd pleaser: Stade Français v Toulouse

Crowd pleaser: Stade Français v Toulouse

A massive weekend awaits fans of French rugby as Toulouse visit Paris while Perpignan and Bayonne play for their Top 14 lives.

A weekend of massive fixtures awaits fans of French rugby as Toulouse visit Paris while Perpignan and Bayonne play for their Top 14 lives.

With just five rounds of the regular season left, no less than six clubs are still threatened by the prospect of relegation.

The headline act of the weekend will be at the Stade de France were 80 000 fans are expected for the annual gala game between Parisian giants Stade Français and the defending champions.

But the most important game of Round 22 is at the other end of the table as Perpignan and Bayonne - separated by a single point - do battle on the edge of the relegation zone.

Biarritz have managed to pull four points clear of the drop zone but are still far from safety as they clash with Clermont, who are gunning for the championship lead.

The action kicks off on Friday when Racing have a must-win game against fellow-play-off hopefuls Castres while Lyon have one last chance at clinging to survival hope at home to Bordeaux-Bègles.

Elsewhere, Montpellier are chasing a home play-off when they host Agen.

Fixtures:

Friday, March 30
Racing Métro v Castres

Saturday, March 31
Biarritz v Clermont
Brive v Toulon
Lyon v Bordeaux-Bègles
Montpellier v Agen
Perpignan v Bayonne
Stade Français v Toulouse

Rugby Union betting odds

Standings:
1 Toulouse 74
2 Clermont 73
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3 Toulon 62
4 Castres 55
5 Montpellier 52
6 Stade Français 52
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7 Racing Métro 49
8 Agen 44
9 Bordeaux 41
10 Brive 38
11 Biarritz 38
12 Perpignan 35
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13 Bayonne 34
14 Lyon 26




Previews:

Racing-Métro 92 v Castres Olympique
Stade Yves Du Manoir - Colombes (Paris)

Racing have it all to play for on Saturday as they look to climb back into the top six. Last week's loss in Toulon brought an end to a three-game winning run for les Franciliens and saw them drop out of the play-off places.

Racing have blown hot and cold this season, as illustrated but their strong start last week before being swept aside in the second half by Toulon.

Pierre Berbizier's team have two consecutive home games and a golden chance to catch up with Parisian rivals Stade Français.

But Castres have been solid on the road this year, winning four games and claiming a draw. Last week's excellent win over Montpellier left them leading the race for a home play-off.

Racing start with Frans Steyn at full-back while Castre have been boosted by Luc Ducalcon's presence in the front row.

Racing Metro: F.Steyn, Bobo, Chavancy, Estebanez, Imhoff, Hernandez, Descons, Cronje (cap), Battut, Leo'o,Van der Merwe, Nallet, Orlandi, Noirot, Ben Arous
Replacements: Arganese, Brugnaut, Qovu, Galindo, Lorée, Wisniewski, Ma.Bergamasco, Sa

Castres: Teulet, Martial, Cabannes, Baikeinuku, Andreu, Bernard, Lacrampe, Masoe (cap), Caballero, Diarra, Tekori, Rolland, Ducalcon, Rallier, Forestier.
Replacements: Bonello, Peikrishvili, Kulemin, Malonga, Kockott, Sooialo, Evans, M.Coetzee

Previous result Racing won 23-19 in Castres
Prediction: Castres have not won in Colombes since Racing's return to the top division. Racing by five points
Kick-off: 20.45 (19.45 GMT)
Referee: Cédric Lafon




Biarritz Olympique v ASM Clermont Auvergne
Parc des Sports d'Aguilera, Biarritz

Biarritz's recent revival will face it's toughest test yet as they continue in their quest to avoid relegation. Despite three straight wins, the pressure is still firmly on the Basques with only a four-point gap on neighbours Bayonne and the relegation zone.

The return of French internationals Dimitri Yachvili and Imanol Harinordoquy has transformed BO but against a Clermont side hunting the championship lead, the task is a tough one.

Unbeaten since November 26, Clermont are the form side in France and will be looking to build some momentum ahead of next week's Heineken Cup quarter-final against Saracens.

Biarritz have a lengthy injury list including Damien Traille and Fabien Barcella but welcome back Erik Lund.

Clermont will travel to the Atlantic coast without injured former All Black Sitiveni Sivivatu.

Previous result: Clermont won 41-0 at home
Prediction: A tough one to call. It'll be close. The stats show that Clermont win in Biarritz every second year, and they lost there last year...Clermont to edge it
Kick-off: 14.05 (13.05 GMT)
Referee: Mathieu Raynal




USA Perpignan v Aviron Bayonnais
Stade Aimé Giral, Perpignan

Without doubt the most important game of the weekend as two giants of the game - separated by a single point - fight for survival.

Expect a Catalan-Basque war on the Mediterranean coast. The stakes couldn't be higher as defeat for the visitors will leave them behind the eight ball ahead of next week's Basque derby with Biarritz.

2009 champions Perpignan have had a shocking season but have showed signs of revival of late and will be encouraged by their losing bonus point last week when they outscored Clermont two tries to one.

Bayonne have not won at Stade Aimé Giral in 40 years but they too have found some form, winning four games since January while USAP have won just two.

Perpignan welcome no less than eight players from injury and rest, including influential figures like Nicolas Mas, Henry Tuilagi and Damien Chouly. Jean-Pierre Perez has, however, been suspended.

Bayonne are without Sam Gerber, Dwayne Haare and Mark Chisholm but welcome back Troy Flavell and Clément Baiocco.

Previous result: Bayonne won 18-16 at home
Prediction: It won't be one for the faint hearted. Expect emotions to boil over and a few cards but the Catalan crowd to see their team home. Perpignan by a whisker
Kick-off: 14.15 (13.15 GMT)
Referee: Franck Maciello




CA Brive Corrèze v RC Toulon
Stade Amédée Domenech, Brive

Brive came off second best in an almighty battle with Bayonne last week and as a result have slipped back into the relegation battle, just four points clear on the drop zone.

It's not the situation you want to be in against a Toulon side that has been in great form. To make matters worse, Brive still have games against Racing, Toulouse and Clermont left on the menu, meaning points at home this weekend are vital.

By Contrast, Toulon - undefeated since mid-January - hit the road aiming to secure a home play-off.

The hosts have one of the worst home records in the championship but boast a very solid defence having conceded the least amount of tries this season. But will that be enough to stop Jonny Wilkinson, who