Planet Rugby

Top 14 Preview: Round 20

21st February 2014 10:26

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Montpellier scrum half Jonathan Pelissie v clermont

Clash at the top: Clermont v Montpellier

Top 14 leaders Clermont host second-placed Montpellier on Saturday, with third-placed Stade Francais looking to keep up the pressure on the two leaders.

Toulouse must travel to defending champions Castres for a derby clash without 22 players while Grenoble will look to drop anchor in the top six against doomed Biarritz.

European champions Toulon travel to Bayonne in the only game on Sunday.

With seven rounds of games to go until the end of the regular season, when six teams will advance to the playoffs, the top eight teams are separated by just seven points in what has been a highly-unpredictable campaign to date.

Fixtures:

Saturday, December 30
Clermont v Montpellier
Bordeaux-Bègles v Racing Métro
Grenoble v Biarritz
Stade Français v Oyonnax
Perpignan v Brive
Castres v Toulouse

Sunday, December 30
Bayonne v Toulon

Standings:

Previews:

ASM Clermont Auvergne v Montpellier Hérault Rugby
Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin, Clermont Ferrand

Montpellier will travel north feeling confident having thrashed Clermont by 40 points earlier this season.

Clermont are two points clear at the top of the standings, but they will be missing several internationals on Six Nations duty when they host Montpellier at their fortress where they are unbeaten in 72 matches.

Absent will be Vincent Debaty, Thomas Domingo, Alexandre Lapandry, Damien Chouly, and Wesley Fofana, who are all in the French squad to take on Wales, while David Zirakishvili is on duty with Georgia.

Five other players are injured - Julien Bonnaire, Julien de Sousa Bardy, Benjamin Kayser, Mike Delany and Regan King - with two others doubtful -Daniel Kotze and Thierry Lacrampe).

That could open the door for Montpellier, who are less affected by the club v country imbroglio, to create a huge upset and also take over as Top-14 leaders as they go into the match just two points back.

Montpellier will be without Scots Jim Hamilton and John Beattie, prop Nicolas Mas with France and Georgians Mamuka Gorgodze and Mikheil Nariashvili.

Clermont coach Vern Cotter said Montpellier would prove to be a handful for his depleted side.

"They won against Toulouse and last week they chalked up 50 points against Perpignan, they are full of confidence and will want to finish the season well," he said.

"I think they will have high hopes and it is up to us to be vigilant from the start of the match and for the whole 80 minutes.

"But as you can see we are having to bring in some younger players from our training centre and we are especially hurting in the front row."

"There is no doubt about it that with 11 players unavailable, we are not in the best of situations to host a team in such top form as Montpellier."

Result in Round Seven: Montpellier won 43-3
Kick-off: 14.30 (13.30 GMT)
Referee: Sébastien Minery


Union Bordeaux-Bègles v Racing Métro 92
Stade André Moga, Bègles

Les Bordelais will have fresh legs after their clash with Oyonnax was called off last week.

Racing Métro are unbeaten in their last three games and have won four times in their last six visits to the Gironde region. In fact, the Parisians have won 8 of their last 9 clashes with UBB.

But the hosts will present a stiff challenge as they fight to keep their place in the top division of French rugby against a Racing team missing their Six Nations contingent.

Result in Round Seven: Racing won 26-19
Kick-off: 18:30 (17.30 GMT)
Referee: Salem Attalah


FC Grenoble v Biarritz Olympique
Stade Lesdiguières, Grenoble

Having beaten the leaders last time out, Grenoble will expect to get the better of stone-last Biarritz, and cement their place in the play-off zone for another week.

Biarritz seem to have resigned themselves to the fact that they will be relegated with most of the quotes coming out of their camp focused on next week's Basque derby at home to Bayonne.

Grenoble captain Andrew Farley will return to the starting XV having played off the bench the last three weeks.

Result in Round Seven: Grenoble won 27-21
Kick-off: 18:30 (17.30 GMT)
Referee: Patrick Pechambert


Stade Français Paris v US Oyonnax
Stade Jean Bouin, Paris

The task on hand for Stade Français, who are just three points off the lead, looks relatively easy on the face of it as they host relegation-threatened Oyonnax, but they too have several players away on international duty.

Fly-half Jules Plisson, lock Pascal Papé and winger Hugo Bonneval are all in the France squad for Cardiff, while number eight Sergio Parisse will captain Italy against Scotland in Rome.

Nevertheless, Stade Français, who are unbeaten at home this season, should win comfortably.

Result in Round Seven: Stade Français won 16-15
Kick-off: 18:30 (17.30 GMT)
Referee: Christophe Berdos


USA Perpignan v CA Brive-Corrèze
Stade Aimé Giral, Perpignan

Brive have not won in Perpignan in their last 10 visits but travel to Catalonia with a fully fit squad and spring in their step having toppled Stade Français last week.

Les Corréziens have yet to win on the road this season but face a Perpignan side decimated by injuries and call ups and threatened by the prospect of relegation.

Indeed, on the wrong end of 50 points against Montpellier last week, USAP are in very poor form.

Result in Round Seven: Brive won 31-6
Kick-off: 18:30 (17.30 GMT)
Referee: Sébastien Clouté


Castres Olympique v Stade Toulousain
Stade Pierre Antoine, Castres

Fourth-placed Castres, hosts a struggling Toulouse side, who have a whopping 22 players unavailable either due to international commitments or injury.

The reigning champions are also without a few key players, including their first-choice full-back, fly-half, loosehead prop and hooker.

Toulouse finally won on the road last week but a derby with the champs will be a tough prospect, though they have won in the Tarn four times in their last nine visits, including last year.

Castres are unbeaten at home this season and are hoping to consolidate fourth place in the standings, synonymous with a home play-off.

Result in Round Seven: Toulouse won 26-9
Kick-off: 20:35 (19.35 GMT)
Referee: Cyril Lafon


Aviron Bayonnais v Rugby Club Toulonnais
Stade Jean Dauger, Bayonne

Following back-to-back win at home, Toulon must find some form on the road if they are to challenge for the play-offs.

Currently fifth, they travel to a Bayonne side fighting to stay alive. Toulon have won just once in seven attempts at Stade Jean Dauger, where the locals have lost just once this season.

Toulon welcome back Pumas flank Juan-Martin Fernandez Lobbe while Bayonne are boosted by the return of wing Marvin O'Connor.

Result in Round Seven: Toulon won 18-12
Kick-off: 17:05 (16.05 GMT)
Referee: Pascal Gauzère

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