Planet Rugby

Top 14 Preview: Round 21

08th March 2013 13:04

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

Hard to get past at home: Toulon host Biarritz

Top 14 leaders Toulon host Biarritz this weekend before fourth-placed Castres face the unenviable task of travelling to Clermont.

The weekend's action kicks off when Racing Métro take their six-game winning streak to Montpellier.

Perpignan are knocking on the door of the play-offs zone and will expect to break into the top six with a home victory over flagging Grenoble.

Elsewhere, Toulouse are at home to Bordeaux-Bègles, who came desperately close to upsetting the champions earlier this season while Bayonne visit relegation-threatened Agen.

Stade Français will play their last ever match at Stade Charléty against bottom-of-the-standings Mont-de-Marsan.

Fixtures:

Friday, March 8
Montpellier v Racing Métro - Preview here

Saturday, March 9
Agen v Bayonne
Stade Français v Mont-de-Marsan
Perpignan v Grenoble
Toulon v Biarritz
Toulouse v Bordeaux-Bègles
Clermont v Castres

Rugby Union betting odds

Standings:
1 Toulon 71
2 Clermont 69
--------------------
3 Toulouse 60
4 Castres 58
5 Montpellier 54
6 Racing-Metro 54
--------------------
7 Perpignan 51
8 Grenoble 47
9 Biarritz 43
10 Stade Français 41
11 Bayonne 37
12 Bordeaux-Bègles 30
--------------------
13 Agen 27
14 Mont-de-Marsan 15


Previews:

Rugby Club Toulonnais v Biarritz Olympique
Stade Felix Mayol, Toulon

Biarritz have not won at Stade Mayol in eight years and with Clermont next on the menu, things are not looking great for the Basques.

Nine points off the play-off berths, Biarritz look to have missed the boat for Heineken Cup qualification and will have to aim for place in Europe's top division via a defence of their Amlin Challenge Cup title, which they won in a dour final against Toulon last year.

The leaders, who impressed in their victory over Toulouse last week, are unlikely to do their visitors any favours either as they look to retain their slender lead over Clermont.

Beyond being without a handful of internationals, versatile ex-Springbok forward Danie Rossouw has arrived in Toulon but is not yet registered to play. Delon Armitage is suspended while Joe Van Niekerk and Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe are injured.

Biarritz will be without suspended scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili, who can count himself very lucky to have been banned for just one week for stamping.

Previous result: Toulon won 36-9
Prediction: The hosts should be a safe bet. Toulon by fifteen points
Kick-off: 15:00 (14.00 GMT)
Referee: Céderic Marchat


Stade Toulousain v Union Bordeaux-Bègles
Stade Ernest Wallon, Toulouse

Bordeaux-Bègles were able to breath a sigh of relief as they climbed out of the relegation zone last week but a return is on the cards against a Toulouse side that has been bolstered by the return of a number of players.

Prop Jean-Baptiste Poux, loose forward Grégory Lamboley, fly-half Luke McAlister, wing Yves Donguy and centre Yannick Jauzion all return from injury for the champs. Gary Botha has returned to South Africa to recover from injury though.

This fixture last year saw Toulouse win 56-6 but the champions had to work very hard for a two-point in over UBB earlier this season.

Having lost three of their last four games, victory is vital for Toulouse if they hope to secure a home play-off as automatic semi-final qualification now seems out of their reach.

UBB have rested centre Julien Rey but welcome back Tongan Andrew Mailei.

Previous result: Toulouse won 34-32
Prediction: Bordeaux-Bègles may be focused on next week's game with Mont-de-Marsan. Toulous to win with a bonus point
Kick-off: 15:00 (14.00 GMT)
Referee: Cyril Lafon


SU Agen v Aviron Bayonnais
Stade Armandie, Agen

Back in the red zone with five rounds to play, Agen can no longer afford to drop points at home.

Win-less in their last three games, Bayonne have not travelled well this season with their only win away from home coming down the road at Biarritz.

Bayonne are without experienced fly-half Benjamin Boyet and there is some doubt over the fitness of scrum-half Cédric Garcia. Centre Manu Ahotaeiloa is back for the Basques.

Previous result: Bayonne won 37-16
Prediction: Agen will be ultra-motivated and Bayonne don't have much to play for. Agen by eight points
Kick-off: 15:00 (14.00 GMT)
Referee: Jean-Luc Rebollal


Stade Français Paris v Stade Montois
Stade Charléty, Paris

Stade Français lost for the first time in the capital this season against Clermont last week at the Stade de France. This week they return to Stade Charléty for the final time as their last two home games are at the national stadium before the move back to the refurbished Stade Jean-Bouin next season.

In a game between the two worst defences in France and with Stade playing for little more than pride, it should be a high-scoring affair.

Previous result: Stade Français 30-28
Prediction: In Paris? Stade Français by ten points.
Kick-off: 15:00 (14.00 GMT)
Referee: Alexandre Ruiz


USA Perpignan v FC Grenoble
Stade Aimé Giral, Perpignan

Perpignan are one of the in-form sides at the moment while Grenoble have won just once in their last five starts.

USAP are pushing for a place in the play-offs and with one of the best home record in the league, they will expect to win despite missing four internationals (Guirado, Mas, Vahaamahina and Hook).

The Catalan injury list features Farid Sid, Robins Tchale Watchou, Jérémy Castex, Jean-Pierre Pérez and Sofiane Guitoune

The hosts do however welcome back Adrien Planté and Jerome Schuster.

South African number eight Shaun Sowerby returns to the Grenoble starting XV.

Previous result: Grenoble won 28-23
Prediction: Grenoble have never won at Stade Aimé Giral. Perpignan by twelev points
Kick-off: 15:00 (14.00 GMT)
Referee: Sébastien Minery


ASM Clermont Auvergne v Castres Olympique
Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin, Clermont Ferrand

The big one this weekend goes down at fortress Marcel-Michelin, where the hosts' home record is the best in Europe.

Castres arrive full of confidence though following their wins over Toulon and Montpellier and are gunning for Toulouse, who are just two points ahead of them.

Only the very brave would dare bet against Clermont on home soil even if they are without eight players on international duty: Zirakashvili and Kolelishvili (Georgia), Bardy (Portugal) and well as Domingo, Debaty, Kayser, Parra and Fofana (France). Julien Malzieu is the only injury absentee.

Les Jaunards have closed the gap on Toulon and are now within striking distance of the championship lead.

Previous result: Castres won 16-13
Prediction: Clermont at home? Clermont by ten points
Kick-off: 20.40 (19.40 GMT)
Referee: Romain Poite

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