Preview: Stade Français v Montpellier

28th Feb 2014, 07:32

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Big clash: Montpellier host Stade Français

Big clash: Montpellier host Stade Français

Two play-off contenders go head to head in Montpellier on Friday as Stade Français travel to Stade Yves Du Manoir in confident mood.

Two play-off contenders go head to head in Montpellier on Friday as Stade Français travel to Stade Yves Du Manoir in confident mood.

Second-placed Stade Français will look to put pressure on Top 14 leaders Clermont when they visit one of their former head coaches, Fabien Galthié.

After several years in the doldrums, both on and off the pitch as financial problems bit deep, Stade look to be re-emerging as genuine title contenders under the stewardship of Argentinian Gonzalo Quesada.

They are currently four points behind Clermont, who play away at Bordeaux-Belges on Saturday.

Having won five French championships from 1998 to 2007, the last thanks to Galthié, when owned by flamboyant radio mogul Max Guazzini, Stade have not threatened the likes of Toulouse, Toulon or Clermont in recent years.

However, Quesada has blended a potent mix of older players, such as France captain Pascal Papé and Italian counterpart Sergio Parisse - who misses the trip to Montpellier - with young ones such as Jules Plisson and Hugo Bonneval, both capped in this season's Six Nations for the first time.

Stade will travel on the back of a last-minute win over relegation-threatened Oyonnax last weekend, a familiar feature of their play this season as they have competed until the final whistle where in previous years they tended to drop their heads in tight matches and fallen away.

"We have our feet on the ground but we are marching with our heads held high," said Quesada, who has been credited also for his excellent personal touch with the players.

Montpellier, who have become regular title contenders under Galthié, reaching the final in 2011, will welcome them having had their three-match winning run brought to a juddering halt by Clermont last Saturday.

While they played against 14 men for over half the match - after Morgan Parra was sent off for headbutting Rene Ranger - they were thrashed 42-16.

"It is hard to explain the inexplicable," said Galthié's assistant and former Argentinian and Clermont stalwart Mario Ledesma.

"We were taught a lesson by a great team and now we must learn from it and hopefully show that we have done so against Stade."

The players will need to have learnt their lesson as, with just six matches remaining, Montpellier cannot afford to slip up at home.

They are currently fifth, but are only three points clear of seventh-placed Toulouse - and only the top six make the end of season play-offs.

They will face a stiff examination as Stade, with three away wins this season, have the second best record, behind Grenoble, on their travels.

The hosts will be able to welcome back several of their players who were absent because of Six Nations duty, among them grizzled French prop Nicolas Mas Scrum-half Jonathan Pelissie also returns from injury.

However, they lost two influential players this week to injury in Argentinian Maximiliano Bustos and former Clermont star Anthony Floch.

Quesada, while mindful of the wear-and-tear on his international players, is also concerned that those who have stayed behind at the club have also played a lot of rugby and he is likely to start with French prop Rabah Slimane -- who was suspended for the Wales game after being redcarded against Italy -- and international team-mate Alexandre Flanquart.

Quesada is confident the poor morale and performances of the past few seasons has been firmly forgotten and that they are capable of beating any side.

"I feel that the team has emerged from a traumatic period and that all of a sudden it has a new face on it."

The teams:

Montpellier: 15 Pierre Berard. 14 Rene Ranger, 13 Thomas Combezou, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Timoci Nagusa, 10 Francois Trinh-Duc, 9 Benoit Paillaugue, 8 Alex Tulou, 7 Mamuka Gorgodze, 6 Alexandre Bias, 5 Thibaut Privat, 4 Robins Tchale Watchou, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Charles Geli, 1 Mikheil Nariashvili,
Replacements: 16 Thomas Bianchin, 17 Yvan Watremez, 18 Mickael de Marco, 19 Paul Grant, 20 Jonathan Pelissie, 21 Yoan Audrin, 22 Benoit Sicart, 23 Paea Faanunu,

Stade Français: 15 Richard Kingi, 14 Julien Arias, 13 Paul Williams, 12 Jonathan Danty, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Jerome Fillol, 8 David Lyons, 7 Sylvain Nicolas, 6 Antoine Burban, 5 Gerhard Mostert, 4 Alexandre Flanquart, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Remi Bonfils, 1 Sakaria Taulafo,
Replacements: 16 Michael van Vuuren, 17 Hendrik van der Merwe, 18 Pascal Papé, 19 Nicolas Garrault, 20 Julien Dupuy, 21 Jules Plisson, 22 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 23 David Attoub.

Date: Friday, February 28
Venue: Stade Yves Du Manoir, Montpellier
Kick-off: 20.45 local (19.45 GMT)
Referee: Romain Poite