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Top 14 preview: Round Eight

05th October 2012 11:22

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Taku Ngwenya of Biarritz C is tackled by Matt Giteau of Toulon L and Jonny Wilkinson of Toulon

Rematch: Biarritz v Toulon

With the Heineken Cup now just one week away, France's big guns are looking to build momentum as Toulon visit faltering Biarritz.

Clermont are keeping their powder dry by resting a host of players for Friday's clash in Castres, where they haven't won in 36 years.

Bayonne will be aiming to build on last week's morale-boosting victory in the Basque derby at home to Agen while Grenoble will fancy their chances of claiming another big scalp against Perpignan.

Two European competitors go head-to-head in Paris as Racing Metro host Montpellier while Toulouse visit Bordeaux, where they struggled last year.

Foreign referees will take charge of all seven fixtures this weekend as part of the ongoing international exchange programme to help both clubs and officials better prepare for European competition.

Fixtures:

Friday, October 5
Castres v Clermont - Match preview here

Saturday, October 6
Biarritz v Toulon
Bayonne v Agen
Grenoble v Perpignan
Racing Metro v MontpellierBordeaux-Bègles v Toulouse

Rugby Union betting odds

Standings:
1 Clermont 27
2 Toulon 27
3 Toulouse 20
4 Biarritz 19
5 Montpellier 19
6 Grenoble 18
7 Racing-Metro 18
8 Castres 16
9 Perpignan 15
10 Agen 14
11 Stade Francais 11
12 Bayonne 11
13 Bordeaux 10
14 Mont-de-Marsan 0


Previews:

Biarritz Olympique v RC Toulonnais
Parc des Sports d'Aguilera, Biarritz

Are the old demons coming back to haunt Biarritz? After a storming start to the season, BO have lost their last three games, including a last-minute defeat in their most important game of the season, the home leg of the Basque derby against Bayonne.

Following their first loss of the season with a much-changed team in Toulouse last week, Toulon will travel west not only hoping to reclaim the top spot in the standings, but will also be keen to extract revenge for the 21-18 loss in last season's Amlin Challneg Cup Final (a result that means both teams are in the Heineken Cup this term).

RCT have recalled a handful of their stars including Jonny Wilkinson, Bakkies Botha and Sébastien Tillous-Borde but they will be without young loose forward Pierrick Gunther, who has been sidelined for 10 days with a hip injury.

For Biarritz, Kiwi Matt Berquist will start at fly-half. Veteran lock Jérôme Thion has an Achilles tendon problem and is set for a 10-day spell of the sidelines, where he joins Dimitri Yachvili and Imanol Harinordoquy.

Toulon have won just once in their last 12 visits to Biarritz.

Results last season: Biarritz 25-6 Toulon; Toulon 30-5 Biarritz
Prediction: It'll be close but Biarritz seem to have hit a downward spiral. Toulon by three points
Kick-off: 18:30 (16.30 GMT)
Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (IRFU)


FC Grenoble v USA Perpignan
Stade Lesdiguières, Grenoble

Grenoble continue to cause upsets. Last week's convincing win over Racing - their third consecutive success on home soil - suggests they are well equipped in the fight against relegation. In fact, they will now be aiming to finish in midtable.

Perpignan were made to fight hard to get past Mont-de-Marsan a week ago and will need to up their game if they are to hope to take points back to Catalogne.

Bad news for USAP is that French international centre David Marty has been ruled out for two months with a fractured wrist.

Previous result: Grenoble 16-17 Perpignan (2004)
Prediction: Grenoble look like the real deal, especially at home. Grenoble by seven points
Kick-off: 18:30 (16.30 GMT)
Referee: Neil Paterson (SRU)


Aviron Bayonnais v SU Agen
Stade Jean Dauger, Bayonne

Bayonne coaches Christian Lanta and Christophe Deylaud welcome Agen, where they were at the helm for 12 seasons.

After another tumultuous start to the season with more mishaps behind the scenes, the mood in Bayonne improved immeasurably last weekend thanks to a much-needed, long-overdue win in the Basque derby, which ended a four-game win-less streak.

Another win on Saturday, against a direct rival in the relegation battle, could be just what the star-studded Bayonne squad need to gain some positive momentum.

Agen have also managed to turn a catastrophic start around with three consecutive wins but have yet to win on the raid this season. Les Agenais have won just three times in 16 trips to Bayonne in the post-war era

Results last season: Bayonne 31-10 Agen; Agen 37-18 Bayonne
Prediction: Bayonne should be too srong at home. Bayonne by eight points
Kick-off: 15:30 (13.30 GMT)
Referee: John Lacey (IRFU)


Racing Metro 92 v Montpellier HR
Stade Yves Du Manoir, Colombes (Paris)

Olly Barkley is set to make his debut for Racing Metro just days after arriving from Bath. Les Franciliens host a direct rival in the race for a the play-offs and will be eager to get back on track after thumped in Grenoble last week. With a big game against Munster on the cards next week, the Parisians - who have completed more passes than any other team so far this season - will need the Barkley to integrate himself into their playing system rapidly.

Montpellier head to the capital looking for their first win in Colombes since Racing returned to the top division in 2009. Fabien Galthié's side have not hit their straps yet (as they wait for the return of their Pumas) but have looked in decent form with wins in Bordeaux and at home to Castres.

Results last season: Racing Métro 30-22 Montpellier; Montpellier 29-14 Racing Métro
Prediction: Racing are a solid bet at home. Racing Métro by nine points
Kick-off: 18:30 (16.30 GMT)
Referee: Neil Hennessy (WRU)


Stade Montois v Stade Français Paris
Stade Guy Boniface

Stade Français have yet to win on the road in the last two seasons. But if there was ever a place to pick up points, Mont-de-Marsan seems to be it.

Relegation already seems a certainty for the les Montois but the hosts, who have fought gallantly and gave Perpignan a stiff challenge last week, will also see this as an opportunity to get their first points of the season.

Stade Français came within seconds of upsetting the odds and claiming a draw in Clermont last week and will want to build on that reassuring performance. Failure to do so leave them rooted to the bottom third of the table and with diminishing hopes of making the play-offs.

Previous result: Mont-de-Marsan 6-13 Paris (2009)
Prediction: You have to brave to bet on Stade Français outside of the capital, but the Mont-de-Marsan look out of their depth. Stade Français by five points
Kick-off: 18:30 (16.30 GMT)
Referee: Dudley Phillips (IRFU)


Union Bordeaux-Bègles v Stade Toulousain
Jacques Chaban-Delmas (Bordeaux)

UBB have gone 172 minutes without scoring a try but will be out to impress having moved the game to the scene of their greatest exploits in Bordeaux's soccer stadium, where they have won twice this season already.

Stuck in the drop zone, Saturday's host will be desperate for a repeat of last year's shock win over the champions.

But Toulouse, who started the season slowly, are starting to gain form as illustrated by the big wins over Bayonne and Toulon over the last fortnight.

Vincent Clerc is rested having played every minute of all of Toulouse's games this term. Yves Donguy takes over the the wing.

Results last season: Bordeaux 18-17 Toulouse; Toulouse 56 - 6 Bordeaux
Prediction: Toulouse are warming up for Europe, which is not good news for the hosts. Toulouse by ten points
Kick-off: 20.40 (18.40 GMT)
Referee: Marius Mitrea (FIR)

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