Preview: Clermont v Montpellier

Date published: August 28 2014

Clermont have the chance to move to the head of the Top 14 when they welcome Montpellier to the Stade Marcel Michelin on Friday night.

Clermont have the chance to move to the head of the Top 14 when they welcome Montpellier to the Stade Marcel Michelin on Friday night.

Les Jaunards have won each of their opening two games, seeing off Grenoble before winning away at rivals Brive.

However Montpellier, who finished last year's regular campaign second in the table, represent a step-up in opposition, despite some early struggles.

Last season this game was most notable for the sending off of Morgan Parra for a headbutt on Rene Ranger in the first half, but despite playing for more than an hour with 14 men, Clermont still cruised to a 42-16 win, with Sitiveni Sivivatu slotting in seamlessly at scrum-half.

It's tough to see this game being so one-sided, but when the two sides met in pre-season, it was Clermont who emerged as comfortable winners.

This game will see Wesley Fofana start his first game of the season forming a mouthwatering centre partnership with Jonathan Davies.

Brock James returns at fly-half to replace the impressive Camille Lopez, while Fritz Lee will also make his first start of the season, skipper Damien Chouly switching to blindside to accommodate him.

Montpellier will use this game to blood a few of their new signings, with former Australia skipper Ben Mowen starting at number eight, and ex-All Black Tom Donnelly in the second row.

The make-up of the team, with the likes of François Trinh-Duc, Fulgence Ouedraogo and Nicolas Mas all starting, hints that Fabien Galthié is targeting an upset, although Clermont have not lost at home during the regular season since 2009.

Montpellier will need to improve on last week's display against Grenoble, where they got out of jail thanks to a late Jonathan Pélissié penalty, but were outplayed for large periods of the game.

Rene Ranger has been dropped to the bench having struggled defensively, with Benjamin Fall taking his place on the left wing.

Other new faces include Wynand Olivier, featuring for the first time this season, and Antoine Battut, making his first start since a move from Racing.

With a bonus point now requiring the losing side to get within five points, it will take a big effort from Montpellier to get anything from this game, but if they can rediscover their best form, they still have the weapons to hurt Clermont, with Ranger and Nagusa providing firepower on the bench.

Clermont: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 Zac Guildford, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Julien Malzieu, 10 Brock James, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Julien Bardy, 6 Damien Chouly (c), 5 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 4 Jamie Cudmore, 3 Davit Zirakashvili, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Thomas Domingo.
Replacements: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Loic Jacquet, 19 Viktor Kolelishvili, 20 Ludovic Radosavljevic, 21 Camille Lopez, 22 Aurelie Rougerie, 23 Daniel Kotze

Montpellier: 15 Pierre Berard, 14 Lucas Dupont, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Benjamin Fall, 10 François Trinh-Duc, 9 Benoit Paillaugue, 8 Ben Mowen, 7 Antoine Battut, 6 Fulgence Ouedraogo (c), 5 Sitaleki Timani, 4 Tom Donnelly, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Mickael Ivaldi, 1 Mikheil Nariashvili.
Replacements: 16 Thomas Bianchin, 17 Yvan Watremez, 18 Robins Tchale Watchou, 19 Akapusi Qera, 20 Jonathan Pelissie, 21 Timoci Nagusa, 22 Rene Ranger, 23 Chris King

Date: Friday, August 29
Venue: Stade Marcel Michelin
Kick-off: 20.45 local (19.45 GMT)
Referee: Romain Poite
Assistant referees: Mathieu Delpy, Laurent Breil