Planet Rugby

Top 14 Preview: Round 23

29th March 2013 13:47

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Toulouse s Luke McAlister v Racing metro

Heavyweight clash: Racing v Toulouse

Racing will be aiming for their tenth straight Top 14 victory when they host Toulouse on Saturday while leaders Toulon head up north to face Stade Français in Lille.

Clermont will fancy their chances of taking the championship lead if Toulon falter as les Jaunards will expect to easily beat struggling Agen on home soil.

A week before the European Cup quarter-finals, Montpellier will stretch their legs away to already-relegated Mont-de-Marsan.

Perpignan host Castres in a clash that will be crucial in the play-off race while Bordeaux-Bègles will hope to take another step towards safety at home to Bayonne.

Fixtures:

Friday, March 29
Biarritz v Grenoble - Preview here

Saturday, March 30
Stade Français v Toulon
Bordeaux-Bègles v Bayonne
Clermont v Agen
Mont-de-Marsan v Montpellier
Perpignan v Castres
Racing Métro v Toulouse

Standings:
1 Toulon 77
2 Clermont 75
--------------------
3 Toulouse 69
4 Castres 62
5 Racing-Metro 62
6 Montpellier 59
--------------------
7 Perpignan 56
8 Grenoble 49
9 Biarritz 47
10 Stade Français 46
11 Bayonne 45
12 Bordeaux 36
--------------------
13 Agen 27
14 Mont-de-Marsan 15 - relegated


Stade Français Paris v Rugby Club Toulonnais
Lille Métropole

It's been exactly one year since Toulon last conceded consecutive defeats. After losing to Bayonne in Spain last week, a trip to Lille will be tricky.

But after sending their 'B' team to the Basque country, Toulon have recalled all their big guns including Jonny Wilkinson, Andrew Sheridan, Bakkies Botha, Matt Giteau et al.

Both teams will use this clash to gear up for next weekend's European fixtures.

Stade Français captain Sergio Parisse sees the game as a springboard to the Amlin Challenge Cup, in which Stade are one of four French teams drawn in the quarter-finals alongside Biarritz, Perpignan and Toulouse.

"Even if we can no longer really play for sixth place, we'll try to fix the Challenge Cup as our goal," said Parisse, with his team drawn away to Bath.

"That starts with the home game against Toulon, whom I consider the best team in Europe at the moment.

"There's no better way to prepare for a quarter-final than by playing the current benchmark team."

Parisse, who enjoyed another outstanding Six Nations as Italy captain, explained: "It's no longer about the defensive bonus point, the four or five points that will change our championship.

"However, on a mental level, to produce a good game against Toulon, no matter the result, enables us to get in place and start the Bath week in high spirits and confidence."

It's been a tumultuous week for Stade with rumours that Gonzalo Quesada is on his way from Racing while Director of Rugby Richard Pool-Jones stepped away from his on-field role. Backs coach Christophe Laussucq has also confirmed that he is quitting at the end of the season.

Previous result: Toulon won 24-19
Prediction: Toulon will look to hit their straps ahead of their quarter-final with Leicester. Toulon by ten points.
Kick-off: 15.00 (14.00 GMT)
Referee: Romain Poite


Union Bordeaux-Bègles v Aviron Bayonnais
Stade André Moga, Bègles

Now nine points clear of the relegation zone, Bordeaux-Bègles will look to consolidate their place in the top flight against a team directly above them and with nothing to play for.

UBB have won their last three home games while their Basque visitors have won just twice on the road all season.

UBB boss Raphaël Ibanez has named a largely unchanged squad, except for 20-year-old wing Darly Domvo who replaces the injured Bruce Reihana.

Other news from Bordeaux is that South African scrum-half Heini Adams has inked a contract extension until 2015.

Benjamin Boyet and Cédric Heymans are back for Bayonne.

Previous result: Bayonne won 22-11
Prediction: The hosts have much more to play for. Bordeaux-Bègles by nine points.
Kick-off: 18:30 (17.30 GMT)
Referee: Pascal Gauzère


ASM Clermont Auvergne v SU Agen
Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin

It's been three years since anyone claimed victory in Clermont-Ferrand and eleven years since Agen did it.

French soccer legend Zinédine Zidane spent three days with Clermont as part of his training as a sports coach as was there to witness the squad receive a surprise visit from dope testers on Thursday.

Agen will arrive with a young squad to face one of Europe's top clubs preparing for a Heineken Cup quarter-final...it could get ugly.

Previous result: Clermont won 18-11
Prediction: No mystery here. Clermont to win with a bonus point.
Kick-off: 18:30 (17.30 GMT)
Referee: Cyril Lafon


Stade Montois v Montpellier Hérault Rugby
Stade Guy Boniface

Montpellier has been one of the best attacking sides in France for the past few years but they've failed to really click this season and have only the eighth best attacking stats in the league. They could remedy that on Saturday.

After being fined 10,000 Euros for failing to correctly indicate a "qualified coach for the professional championship" during Rounds 17 and 19 Montpellier will want to cash in against a down-and-out Mont-de-Marsan side.

Previous result: Montpellier won 32-16
Prediction: The visitors are chasing a play-off spot so shouldn't lack motivation. Montpellier by ten points.
Kick-off: 18:30 (17.30 GMT)
Referee: Patrick Pechambert


USA Perpignan v Castres Olympique
Stade Aimé Giral, Perpignan

Perhaps the most important clash of the weekend takes place in the Catalan country.

While Castres are pushing Toulouse and Racing hard for a home play-off berth, Perpignan cannot afford to lose if they hope to stay in the fight.

USAP are in solid form having won six of their last eight games and having taken a losing bonus off Racing in Paris last week. Castres have won three of their last four including victories over Toulon and Montpellier.

CO narrowly won the clash between these sides earlier this season at the end of an almighty battle in le Tarn.

USAP welcome back French international centre David Marty.

Previous result: Castres win 38-36
Prediction: Castres aren't great on the road. Perpignan by less than seven points.
Kick-off: 18:30 (17.30 GMT)
Referee: Jean-Pierre Matheu


Racing Métro 92v Stade Toulousain
Stade de France, St. Denis (Paris)

Off the back of nine consecutive wins, Racing are without doubt the form side in France at the moment. They've started to click on attack and have the best defensive stats in the championship.

Toulouse meanwhile have the second best attack in the league, averaging 26.9 points per match.

The defending champions won 19-13 in this fixture last year and were convincing victors at home earlier in the season.

Importantly, for the first time this season Toulouse have a near-full complement of players to choose from. The return of their French internationals from Six Nations duty proved significant last week as their bench made a massive impact with 40 points scored in the last half-hour against Stade Français.

But Toulouse manager Guy Novès has been the first to admit that his team will have to be in top form to halt Racing's winning streak.

Toulouse have a tough end to the season with trips to Montpellier and Clermont next up and Clément Poitrenaud says the team have gone into "soldier mode" for the run-in. Beware!

Previous result: Toulouse won 32-13
Prediction: Tough one to call but it's hard to argue with Racing's record at the moment. Racing to edge it!
Kick-off: 20:40 (19.40 GMT)
Referee: Laurent Cardona

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