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Top 14 Preview: Round One

17th August 2012 09:13

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Toulouse s number eight Louis Picamoles C tackled Castres s player Romain Martial

Here we go again! Toulouse kick off against Castres

Defending champions Toulouse kick off the new Top 14 season at home to Castres on Friday, before Toulon finish off the weekend in Perpignan.

Stade Français, under a new coaching team and harbouring fresh ambitions, host a Montpellier side missing six Argentina internationals who are on duty in South Africa.

New boys Mont-de-Marsan and Grenoble are both on the road with les Montois in for a tough start against Biarritz while ProD2 champs Grenoble renew their rivalry with Bordeaux-Begles.

Clermont face a tricky trip to Bayonne where kick-off has been delayed due to the scorching temperatures while Racing Metro are without four Pumas as they head to Agen, who are already struggling with injuries.

Former Chiefs prop Sona Taumalolo is set to make his debut for Perpignan in the Mediterranean derby with Toulon, who are at near full-strength but have left Frédéric Michalak at home.

Fixtures:

Friday, August 17

Toulouse v Castres

Saturday, August 18

Bayonne v Clermont
Agen v Racing Metro
Biarritz v Mont-de-Marsan
Bordeaux-Begles v Grenoble
Stade Français v Montpellier
Perpignan v Toulon

Rugby Union betting odds

Previews:

Stade Toulousain v Castres Olympique
Stade Ernest Wallon, Toulouse

Castres travel to the near neighbours with zero pressure. No one expects the visitors to win: in 11 trips to fortress Ernest-Wallon, CO have never claimed victory.

It's only the second time since 2004 that Toulouse will start their campaign at home, yet they have still won five of their last eight Day One fixtures.

Castres will however be in confident mood having won both their pre-season friendlies, including a win over Glasgow.

The likes of France international backs Yannick Jauzion (heel), Yann David (groin) and Maxime Medard (knee) will be missing from the Toulouse team, as well as Nicolas Vergallo and Patricio Albacete, who will be competing for Argentina in the Rugby Championship.

Yoann Huget makes his first appearance since returning from Bayonne while monster Tongan youngster Edwin Maka features on the bench.

Marcel Garvey and Brice Dulin make their debuts in the Castres backline but former Ulster hardman Pedrie Wannenburg is on the bench.

Toulouse: 15 Clement Poitrenaud, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Florian Fritz, 12 Luke McAlister, 11 Vincent Clerc, 10 Lionel Beauxis, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Thierry Dusautoir, 6 Jean Bouilhou, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Gregory Lamboley, 3 Census Johnston, 2 Gary Botha, 1 Gurthro Steenkamp.
Replacements: 16 Christopher Tolofua, 17 Jean-Batiste Poux, 18 Edwin Maka, 19 Yannick Nyanga, 20 Jean-Marc Doussain, 21 Gael Fickou, 22 Timoci Matanavou, 23 Yohan Montes.

Castres: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Romain Martial, 13 Paul Bonnefond, 12 Romain Cabannes, 11 Marcel Garvey, 10 Remi Tales, 9 Rory Kockott, 8 Antonie Claassen, 7 Yannick Caballero, 6 Ibrahim Diarra, 5 Iosefa Tekori, 4 Matthias Rolland, 3 Karena Wihongi, 2 Marc Antoine Rallier, 1 Saimone Taumoepeau.
Replacements: 16 Mathieu Bonello, 17 Mihaita Lazar, 18 Christophe Samson, 19 Pedrie Wannenburg, 20 Romain Teulet, 21 Pierre Bernard, 22 Seremaia Bai, 23 Michael Coetzee.

Prediction: The history books point to only one result. Toulouse by ten points.
Kick-off: 21.00 (19.00 GMT)
Referee: Romain Poite


Aviron Bayonnais v ASM Clermont Auvergne
Stade Jean Dauger, Bayonne

This was supposed to be the opening fixture on Saturday but kick-off has been moved from 15.00 to 19.00 due to the blazing heat in the Basque country.

Bayonne have been dealt a very tough start to the season but will do well to draw inspiration from their opening day victory against Toulouse last year.

The Basques battled to draw against Clermont in the closing stages a torrid season last time out, a result that well a long way to save them from relegation.

Bayonne will have greater ambitions this time as a lot of money has been invested in their squad.

Returning try-machine Napolioni Nalaga has only just arrived from Down Under so is not in the Clermont squad but Benson Stanley and Damien Chouly should make their debuts. Aurelien Rougerie is doubtful while Thomas Domigo has been rested.

New Bayonne coaches Christian Lanta and Christophe Deylaud have named a squad without any real surprises. Fijian centre Gaby Lovobalavu should make his debut but wing Marvin O'Connor and fly-half Benjamin Boyet are injured.

Results last season 22-22 draw in Bayonne; Clermont won 19-13 at home.
Prediction: It's hard to bet against Clermont, even away from home. Clermont by a whisker.
Kick-off:19.00 (17.00 GMT)
Referee: Mathieu Raynal


SU Agen v Racing-Métro 92
Stade Armandie, Agen

New Agen boss Philippe Sella starts a new era at the club with a difficult game against a Parisian side with title ambitions.

Agen have won their last three home games against Racing although it has been a close affair on each occasion: 25-22 in 2012 and 21-20 in 2010.

Agen are missing no less than seven injured players but former Toulon and Sharks lock Ross Skeate will make his debut alongside Esteban Lozada.

Racing are without four Pumas (Hernandez, Imhoff, Galindo and Orlandi) as well as a handful of injured players including Andrea Lo Cicero and Jone Qovu.

Results last season: Agen won 25-22 at home; Racing won 26-8 at home.
Prediction: Tough to call considering all the absentees, but we'll go with the hosts. Agen by five points.
Kick-off: 18.30 (16.30 GMT)
Referee: Laurent Cardona


Biarritz Olympique v Stade Montois
Parc des Sports d'Aguilera, Biarritz

Amlin Challenege Cup champions Biarritz will want to forget their last domestic season as quickly as possible and a home game against their west-coast rivals offers a perfect opportunity to get off to a winning start.

Biarritz won both the previous meetings between these sides by at least 27 points.

With clashes against Toulouse and Toulon next on the menu, Mont-de-Marsan have been handed the hardest start to the campaign imaginable.

With no World Cup to disrupt their team, Biarritz will expect a solid win but will start the season without Dimitri Yachvili, who had minor surgery in the off-season. Imanol Harinordoquy is also out a knee injury.

Previous results:Biarritz won 33-6 and 37-7 in 2008-2009.
Prediction: It should be an easy one to call. Biarritz by 15 points.
Kick-off: 18.30 (16.30 GMT)
Referee: Jean-Pierre Matheu


Union Bordeaux-Bègles v FC Grenoble
Stade André Moga, Bègles

Grenoble start their first season in the top flight in seven years against their former ProD2 rivals. Manager Fabrice Landreau has named a squad almost identical to the one that won promotion but has a few reinforcements including former Toulouse number eight Shaun Sowerby.

Backline coach Franck Corrihons has promised the new boys will play attractive rugby, but it remains to be seen if they can compete at this level.

New UBB manager Raphaël Ibanez has named Kiwi prop Patrick Toetu in his group but there is no place for number eight Sisa Koyamoibole, who is not yet fully fit.

Previous results: Bordeaux won 25-22 and 19-11 in 2011 (ProD2).
Prediction: UBB proved they are worthy of a Top 14 spot last year. Bordeaux-Bègles by eight points.
Kick-off: 18.30 (16.30 GMT)
Referee: Patrick Pechambert


Stade Français Paris v Montpellier HR
Stade Charléty, Paris

There is massive expectation in Paris for Stade Français to return to the top end of the table after missing the play-offs three straight years.

The Parisians have not lost on the opening day since 2005 but a season-long successful campaign is needed to save the reputation of one of France's biggest clubs.

Former Stade hero Fabien Galthié takes his young team to the capital without six Pumas and has made no secret of his discontent.

Aled De Malmanche and Pierre Rabadan are missing from the hosts' team due to injury while Martin Rodriguez is in South Africa with the Pumas.

Results last season: 19-19 draw in Paris; Montpellier won 38-6 at home.
Prediction: Stade's home record is a solid one. Stade Français by seven points.
Kick-off: 18.30 (16.30 GMT)
Referee: Sébastien Minery


USA Perpignan v RC Toulon
Stade Aimé Giral, Perpignan

The weekend is set to finish with a bang as Toulon take their "army" down the Mediterranean coast.

The losing finalists last June have bolstered their squad even further but fans will have to wait a little longer before seeing Michalak in the rouge et noir of Toulon.

Amongst all the internationals, young wing Vincent Martin is set to make his professional debut. Gethin Jenkins, Maxime Mermoz and Delon Armitage are all set to make their first appearances for RCT.

USAP in a rebuilding phases under new coach Marc Delpoux but are set to unleash potentially the biggest new star of the Top 14: try-scoing prop Sona Taumalolo, who arrives fresh from winning the Super Rugby crown with the Chiefs.

Henry Tuilagi is also back for the Catalans and will be joined in the pack by Luke Charteris and Luke Narraway.

Results last season: 22-22 draw in Perpinan; Toulon won 38-0 at home.
Prediction: It's always tough to bet against Perpignan at home but Toulon look mighty strong. Toulon by less than five points.
Kick-off: 20.40 (18.40 GMT)
Referee: Pascal Gauzere

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