Preview: Top 14, Round 17

Date published: March 5 2016

As certain Top 14 presidents rage at the doublons the league comes back with some hugely important games this week.

After Clermont’s big win on Friday night, Toulouse will be looking to right the ship on Saturday lunchtime at Brive.

Later in the day Stade Français, who admitted they are battling relegation now, will try to win at Pau.

Racing, fresh from a first home loss of the year will be expected to bounce back at home to Agen, while Bordeaux host struggling Oyonnax.

On Saturday evening Montpellier take on Castres before La Rochelle close out the weekend at home to Toulon on Sunday.

Grenoble 12-45 Clermont

Brive v Toulouse
Pau v Stade Français
Racing 92 v Agen
Bordeaux-Bègles v Oyonnax
Montpellier v Castres

La Rochelle v Toulon

Brive v Toulouse
Stade Amédée Domenech, Brive

Toulouse president René Bouscatel was very vocal in the press this week about the way certain teams are penalised by matches during the Six Nations and it’s fair to say Toulouse have suffered.

Last week’s home loss to Montpellier, which came thanks to a late missed conversion by Jean-Marc Doussain, left Toulouse in danger of dropping out of the play-off places.

As a result Ugo Mola has gone for a strong lineup including most of his French internationals, away to a Brive team also in need of a win. Brive have lost two straight and dropped out of the top six, and a third straight defeat would surely end their play-off hopes.

Still they have a good record at home to Toulouse, and with a powerful pack they will expect to get the better of this one.

Last year’s result: Brive won 26-19
Kick-off: 14:45 local (13:45 GMT)
Referee: Pascal Gauzère

Pau v Stade Français
Stade du Hameau, Pau

Having come from behind to beat Brive a fortnight ago, it looked like Stade Français were back on track, but a home defeat to Grenoble ended those hopes.

Pau, meanwhile, have work to do after a home loss to Bordeaux undid the good work of victory at Montpellier. In the season’s opening round, Stade won this one, and with points required, they have selected a number of French internationals.

Fresh from his struggles in Cardiff, Jules Plisson will start at ten, hoping to produce a better display than he did against Wales.

Pau seem to be increasingly reliant on their Kiwi duo of Colin Slade and Conrad Smith, but a good performance up front might be enough here.

Previous result: Stade Français won 32-9 in 2006
Kick-off: 18:30 local (17:30 GMT)
Referee: Romain Poite

Racing 92 v Agen
Stade Yves du Manoir, Colombes

Defeat at home to Castres showed that even Racing aren’t immune to international absences, but in fairness to the two ‘Laurents’ they are playing the game from a Test point of view.

Maxime Machenaud and Wenceslas Lauret are both rested after lots of games in recent weeks, but Camille Chat will get some game time off the bench.

Admittedly, when you have the likes of Mike Phillips, Dan Carter and Yannick Nyanga ready to step in, it helps selection decisions. Agen came from behind to pick up a vital win against La Rochelle last week.

It might be too little too late, but it was still an impressive display and reward for some performances that deserved better in 2016.

Previous result: Racing won 40-6 in 21012/13
Kick-off: 18:30 local (17:30 GMT)
Referee: Adrien Descottes

Bordeaux-Bègles v Oyonnax
Stade Chaban Delmas, Bordeaux

Up to fourth and very much installed in the play-off places, Bordeaux look primed to reach the post-season for the first time since their return to the top flight.

Their strength in depth means that neither Loann Goujon, nor Jefferson Poirot are required, but Yann Lesgourgues gets the nod at scrum-half. Bordeaux have certainly become more pragmatic, and that will be useful against Oyonnax.

The team from the east of France are enduring a really tough season and safety is looking increasingly unlikely.

With Charles Mathon no longer a fortress, they are going to have to start picking up some points away from home. Chaban Delmas doesn’t seem like the most likely place to start.

Last year’s result: Bordeaux won 26-23
Kick-off: 18:30 local (17:30 GMT)
Referee: Tual Trainini

Montpellier v Castres
Altrad Stadium, Montpellier

Two teams who know each other better than most, Montpellier and Castres used to be a regular fixture in the play-offs.

This year the teams could be battling for one spot in the top six, with Montpellier currently in pole position.

Jake White has stamped his authority on the team, and brought in players with whom he is comfortable. Francois Steyn is the latest, and made his debut at Toulouse last time out.

That ended up being tighter than it should have been, but it was still a vital away win. Having said that, seven South Africans in the starting lineup, and just three Frenchmen, is a sad indictment of the league.

For their part, Castres also picked up a hugely important win last time out, winning at Racing. Richie Gray returns this week from international duty, while Rory Kockott and Benjamin Urdapilleta are one of the most reliable half-back pairings in the league.

Last year’s result: Montpellier won 43-10
Kick-off: 20:45 local (19:45 GMT)
Referee: Laurent Cardona

La Rochelle v Toulon
Stade Marcel Deflandre, La Rochelle

Last year La Rochelle won this game in the dying seconds, and at home they are a formidable proposition.

However Toulon are far less affected by the Six Nations than in previous seasons, with Guy Novès not overly enamoured with the few French starters at the European champions.

Guilhem Guirado is expected to be rested after some stunning recent performances but a ridiculous workload. Still, Toulon are playing well, and are now probably favourites for a semi-final spot even if their top spot is a little deceptive having played a game more than most.

A win here and they will be in pole position. La Rochelle are definitely safe, and unlikely to make the play-offs, but at home they are always very difficult to beat.

Last year’s result: La Rochelle won 32-29
Kick-off: 16:45 local (15:45 GMT)
Referee: Mathieu Raynal