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Top 14 Preview: Last Round

03rd May 2013 12:07

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Yannick Jauzion Toulouse HEC 2011

Last game at Ernest Wallon: Yannick Jauzion

The intrigue in the final round of regular season action in France will revolve around who will host the play-off fixtures.

With Clermont and Toulon already through to the semi-finals and Toulouse firm favourites to beat Grenoble on home soil and claim third place, the question remains - who will travel to the defending champions next week?

Saturday's biggest clash will be in Paris where fourth-placed Castres visit fifth-placed Racing with the other home play-off on the line.

Montpellier have a mathematical chance of sneaking ahead of the both but will need a massive result against Perpignan to avoid having to hit the road next week.

Elsewhere, Clermont will expect to secure a first-place finish at home to Bordeaux-Bègles while Toulon should cruise past relegated Agen.

Mont-de-Marsan will bid au revoir to the Top 14 at home to Bayonne who are in a race for a top-ten finish against Basque rivals Biarritz and Stade Français, who face each other.

Fixtures:

Saturday, May 4 All kick-offs at 14.45 (12.45 GMT)
Biarritz v Stade Français
Clermont v Bordeaux-Bègles
Mont-de-Marsan v Bayonne
Montpellier v Perpignan
Racing Métro v Castres
Toulon v Agen
Toulouse v Grenoble

Standings:
1 Clermont 86
2 Toulon 85
3 Toulouse 74
4 Castres 73
5 Racing Metro 69
6 Montpellier 68
7 Perpignan 61
8 Grenoble 54
9 Stade Français 54
10 Bayonne 53
11 Biarritz 52
12 Bordeaux-Begles 47
13 Agen 31
14 Mont-de-Marsan 15

Previews:

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

A home play-off berth will be at stake when Racing-Metro host Castres on the outskirts of the capital in THE game of the final round.

The Parisians trail Castres by four points so really need to win with an attacking bonus point - awarded to a team if they score at least three more tries than their opponents - if they are to claim fourth place.

If they were to fail to do so, they would need a minimum 21-point victory in order to overtake Castres, who themselves have an eye on overtaking Toulouse for third place, although with the reigning champions hosting little Grenoble, that would seem a far-fetched proposition.

Castres backs coach Laurent Labit has left no doubt as to how important he feels home advantage could be in the play-offs.

"There are two sets of coaching staffs and each one is defending their colours, and neither one wants to give the other a present," said Labit, who along with Castres's forwards coach Laurent Travers, will be coaching Racing next season.

Beforehand, they want to go out with a bang and take Castres further than they have done in the past, having secured a play-off spot for the third year in a row (they lost to Toulouse in the semi-finals last year).

If Castres were to lose, they might not only be overtaken by Racing, but also by Montpellier if the beat Perpignan with a bonus point. With such permutations, Castres know they simply need to win to ensure they'll be at home next week.

Even though Labit and Travers are heading to Racing during the summer break, the backs coach insists there will be no hint of divided loyalties in Colombes.

They already proved that by turning over their Parisian visitors 31-10 earlier in the season, soon after the announcement of their new destination.

"If we had to do it again, we'd deal with it in the same way," Labit said about the timing of their announcement.

"Just as much for the club we're quitting to organise the succession as to prepare our arrival at Racing," added Labit.

Castres will be without Fijian legend Seremaia Bai, who has a thigh injury.

Previous result: Castres won 31-10
Prediction: With so much on the line, it's likely to be tight. Racing by less than seven.
Kick-off: 14.45 (12.45 GMT)
Referee: Patrick Pechambert


Montpellier Hérault Rugby v USA Perpignan
Stade Yves Du Manoir, Montpellier

Montpellier, who can count on fit-again France fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc once more, need to win with a bonus point and hope Racing beat Castres with neither side taking a bonus in order to snatch fourth spot.

Trinh-Duc has been out since injuring his ankle in the Heineken Cup quarter-final loss to Clermont and his return couldn't come at a better time.

Montpellier are unbeaten in their last three home games against their Mediterranean neighbours, although USAP claimed a draw there in 2011.

With seventh spot secured and their place in the Heineken Cup now dependent on Leinster winning the Challenge Cup, USAP have nothing to play for and have named a team full of youngsters.

Nicolas Mas (knee), Henry Tuilagi (knee), Kisi Pulu (arm), Guilhem Guirado (shoulder), Gavin Hume (shoulder) and James Hook (elbow) have been left in Perpignan to recover from their injuries.

Previous result: Perpignan won 30-19
Prediction: The hosts should dominate. Montpellier by at least 15 points
Kick-off: 14.45 (12.45 GMT)
Referee: Jean-Luc Rebollal


Stade Toulousain v Grenoble
Stade Ernest Wallon,Toulouse

It's set to be an emotional day in Toulouse as an icon of the club, former France centre Yannick Jauzion, will play his last game at Stade Ernest Wallon, his home ground for 11 seasons.

The champs shouldn't let themselves get caught up in the moment however as they must win to secure a home play-off, which is set to be played at the Stadium de Toulouse.

Against a side that shocked Toulon last time out and led by former Toulouse stalwart Shaun Sowerby, it's not the forgone conclusion that some may assume.

That said, in 11 attempts, last seasons Pro D2 champions have never won in Toulouse, going down by an average of 30 points.

Previous result: Grenoble won 15-6
Prediction: Shouldn't be a problem for the Big Red Machine. Toulouse by 20 points
Kick-off: 14.45 (12.45 GMT)
Referee: Stéphane Pomarède


ASM Clermont Auvergne v Union Bordeaux-Bègles
Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin, Clermont Ferrand

Victory for Clermont will secure top spot in the standings at the end of the regular season and set a new record to an unbeaten run on home soil: 60 matches.

Finishing first or second is academic since the Top 14 semi-finals and final are played at neutral venues but the Heineken Cup finalists will be looking to maintain momentum ahead of season's climax.

les Jaunards will be without a number of first-choice players - Rougerie, Vosloo, Kotze, Skrela, Dlany, Cudmore, King, Nalaga and Stanley are set to sit out.

Previous result: Clermont won 28-24
Prediction: It could be one-way traffic. Clermont to win with a bonus point
Kick-off: 14.45 (12.45 GMT)
Referee: Sébastien Minery


Rugby Club Toulonnais v SU Agen
Stade Felix Mayol, Toulon

Already relegated Agen have hardly helped their preparation for the trip to Toulon as their players refused to train on Thursday, claiming the club had not lived up to all its financial commitments.

It does not bode well as they face a Toulon side chasing first place in the standings. RCT boss Bernard Laporte has promised to play a strong line-up to maintain their intensity ahead of a May 18 European Cup final with Clermont.

"If certain players were rested, they would only have played four matches in ten weeks, which isn't enough," said Laporte.

Frédéric Michalak is set to start after pulling out of the Heineken Cup quarter-final against Saracens at the last minute.

Injured hookers Sébastien Bruno (bicep) and Jean-Charles Orioli (knee) will however be absent. Previous result: Toulon won 15-9
Prediction: No mystery here. Toulon to win with a bonus point
Kick-off: 14.45 (12.45 GMT)
Referee: Jean-Pierre Matheu


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

The only interest remaining for Biarritz is their desire to finish ahead of Basque rivals Bayonne. Stade Français are racing both Basque clubs for a top 10 finish.

Stade Français could rest a number of players ahead of their Challenge Cup Final against Leinster in a fortnight.

Previous result Stade Français won 36-23
Prediction: The hosts will want to finish the season on a high at home. Biarritz by eight points
Kick-off: 14.45 (12.45 GMT)
Referee: Pascal Gauzère


Stade Montois v Aviron Bayonnais
Stade Guy Boniface, Mont-de-Marsan

Bayonne will be aiming to finish ahead of Biarritz for the first time since 2005.

Mont-de-Marsan will play their last game in the top flight in front of their home fans.

Previous result: Bayonne won 39-13
Prediction: Who cares? Bayonne by ten points
Kick-off: 14.45 (12.45 GMT)
Referee: Laurent Cardona

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