Preview: Top 14 Round 19

Date published: March 13 2015

Who would have thought that Castres would be bottom and Oyonnax in the play-off spots with just seven games to go this season? 

The Top 14 has thrown up an exciting and unpredictable season, and that will continue with the final dreaded 'doublon'.

With a number of teams deprived of their internationals, this could be the weekend for a few surprises, and that could have a big impact at both ends of the table.

Clermont v Bordeaux-Bègles
Toulouse v Montpellier
Bayonne v Castres
Brive v Racing-Métro
La Rochelle v Oyonnax
Stade Français v Grenoble
Lyon v Toulon

Toulouse v Montpellier
Stade Ernest Wallon, Toulouse

Montpellier have been a real bogey side for Toulouse in recent seasons, and it was during the Six Nations that they picked up a rare win in the Pink City last season.

Given how tight the race for sixth is, even more is riding on this game, and the visitors will be boosted by the long-awaited return of fly-half François Trinh-Duc.

It's asking a lot for a man who's been out for five months with a broken leg, especially coming into a struggling team.

Because for all the talk of Jake White the saviour, Montpellier have won two out of five in the league, and needed a last-second penalty to rescue a draw at home to La Rochelle last weekend.

That has seen them drop down to ninth in the league, and with just three home games in their last seven, defeat here might see them out of the play-off race altogether.

One advantage for Montpellier is that they are a lot less hampered by international call-ups, with Nicolas Mas and Mikheil Nariashvili the two big name absentees.

Toulouse will be without Thierry Dusautoir, Yoann Maestri, Yoann Huget and Gaël Fickou, while Gillian Galan and Romain Millo-Chluski picked up knocks last weekend.

Of equal concern is the form of Luke McAlister, who has had a season to forget and was a major reason for the defeat at Oyonnax.

While Toby Flood took a while to settle in, he looked to be first choice before a concussion that has kept him out for the last couple of weeks.

Toulouse still have their fate in their own hands, and with four home games remaining, they are well-placed to make the top six.

It's been a few months since they produced a convincing display however, and the season might just unravel if they lose a fifth straight league game to Montpellier.

Toulouse: 15 Clément Poitrenaud, 14 Maxime Médard, 13 Yann David, 12 Florian Fritz (c), 11 Timoci Matanavou, 10 Luke McAlister, 9 Sébastien Bezy, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Imanol Harinordoquy, 6 Yacouba Camara, 5 Grégory Lamboley, 4 Joe Tekori, 3 Neemia Tialata, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Gurthro Steenkamp
Replacements: 16 Christopher Tolofua, 17 Schalk Ferreira, 18 Edwin Maka, 19 Yannick Nyanga, 20 Jean-Marc Doussain, 21 Vincent Clerc, 22 Jano Vermaak, 23 Census Johnston

Montpellier: 15 Timoci Nagusa, 14 Rene Ranger, 13 Anthony Tuitavake, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Lucas Dupont, 10 Ben Lucas, 9 Benoit Paillaugue, 8 Akapusi Qera, 7 Antoine Battut, 6 Ben Mowen, 5 Thibaut Privat, 4 Robins Tchale Watchou, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Charles Geli, 1 Yvan Watremez
Replacements: 16 Mickael Ivaldi, 17 Chris King, 18 Sitaleki Timani, 19 Alex Tulou, 20 Jonathan Pelissié, 21 Francois Trinh-Duc, 22 Samisoni Viriviri, 23 David Attoub

Result last season: Montpellier won 15-12
Kick-off: 14:45 local (13:45 GMT)
Referee: Christophe Berdos

Bayonne v Castres
Stade Jean Dauger, Bayonne

Trailing by 14 points and down to 14 men, it looked like Castres were ready to bid farewell to the Top 14 last week.

Instead they hauled themselves to an unlikely win at home to Lyon, to keep them survival hopes alive for another week.

The problem is they still haven't picked up a point on the road this season, and a trip to Bayonne will not be easy.

Firstly, because Castres are down to the bare bones, with last week's match-winner Rory Kockott one of those unavailable for the trip.

Rémi Talès has been released by France though, and his return may have an impact, against a team that will be deprived of Scott Spedding.

Still, Bayonne seem to have turned a corner, and despite sending an understrength side to Clermont last weekend, they provided stubborn opposition, even denying their hosts a bonus point.

It remains incredibly tight at the bottom, and defeat could see Bayonne drop back into the bottom two.

However if they can get the win, they'll start to open up a significant gap to the teams at the foot of the table.

Bayonne: 15 Martin Bustos Moyano, 14 Joe Rokocoko, 13 Gabiriele Lovobalavu, 12 Matthieu Ugalde, 11 Marvin O'Connor, 10 Santiago Fernandez, 9 Christophe Loustalot, 8 Charles Ollivon, 7 Jean Jo Marmouyet, 6 Jean Monribot, 5 Mark Chisholm (c), 4 Pelu Taele, 3 Aretz Iguiniz, 2 Anthony Etrillard, 1 Janse Van Rensburg

Replacements: 16 David Roumieu, 17 Lucas Pointud, 18 Dewald Senekal, 19 Lisiate Fa'aoso, 20 Guillaume Rouet, 21 Bastien Fuster, 22 Jon Elissalde, 23 Gert Muller

Castres: 15 Julien Dumora, 14 Romain Martial, 13 Romain Cabannes, 12 Daniel Kirkpatrick, 11 Thomas Combezou, 10 Rémi Talès, 9 Cedric Garcia, 8 Jannie Bornman, 7 Mathieu Babillot, 6 Ibrahim Diarra, 5 Benjamin Desroche, 4 Christophe Samson, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Mathieu Bonello, 1 Mihaita Lazar
Replacements: 16 Brice Mach, 17 Saimone Taumoepeau, 18 Rodrigo Capo Ortega, 19 Marc Antoine Rallier, 20 Antoine Dupont, 21 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 22 Marcel Garvey, 23 Yohan Montès

Result last season: Bayonne won 23-13
Kick-off: 18.30 local (17.30 GMT)
Referee: Alexandre Ruiz

Brive v Racing-Métro
Stade Amédée Domenech

Racing-Métro were one of the only two teams to avoid defeat at Amédée Domenech last season, and a win this weekend would take them a step closer to a home play-off game.

They didn't have it all their own way against Grenoble last week, with a debatable try from Juan Imhoff eventually needed to settle matters in Le Havre.

However the Parisian side have a consistency that means they are rarely well-beaten, even on their travels.

While Jonathan Sexton leads the international absences, it will still be a strong team that travels to Brive, who should have recovered from last week's thumping at Toulon.

Les Coujous were relatively competitive but had no answer to the dynamic David Smith, who helped himself to four tries on the night.

They will certainly need to tighten up this week, although Racing aren't the same attacking force as Toulon.

Still, Brive are just one point clear of the bottom two, and while they have some easier home games to come, any loss at Amédée Domenech could be fatal to their survival hopes.

Brive: 15 Gaetan Germain, 14 Guillaume Namy, 13 Christopher Tuatara-Morrison, 12 Thomas Sanchou, 11 Benito Masilevu, 10 Riaan Swanepoel, 9 Jean-Baptiste Péjoine, 8 Sisa Koyamaibole, 7 Poutasi Luafutu, 6 Petrus Hauman, 5 Dominiko Waqaniburotu, 4 Peet Marais, 3 Giorgi Jgenti, 2 Thomas Acquier, 1 Goderzi Shvelidze
Replacements: 16 Francois Da Ros, 17 Johannes Coetzee, 18 Arnaud Méla, 19 Said Hirèche, 20 Damien Neveu, 21 Romain Sola, 22 Alfi Mafi, 23 Kevin Buys

Racing-Métro: 15 Johan Goosen, 14 Adrien Planté, 13 Yoan Audrin, 12 Henry Chavancy, 11 Teddy Thomas, 10 Benjamin Dambielle, 9 Maxime Machenaud (c), 8 Antonie Claassen, 7 Camille Gerondeau, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Francois Van der Merwe, 4 Tomas Lavanini, 3 Luc Ducalcon, 2 Virgile Lacombe, 1 Cedate Gomes Sa
Replacements: 16 Jérémie Maurouard, 17 Davit Khinchagishvili, 18 Juandre Kruger, 19 Thibault Dubarry, 20 Laurent Magnaval, 21 Etienne Dussartre, 22 Benjamin Lapeyre, 23 Brian Mujati

Result last season: The teams drew 9-9
Kick-off: 18.30 local (17.30 GMT)
Referee: Laurent Cardona

La Rochelle v Oyonnax
Stade Marcel Deflandre

La Rochelle avoided defeat on the road for the first time last season but it will all be for nothing unless they back it up at home to Oyonnax.

Christophe Urios' side have been the surprise package in the league this season, and their win in dreadful conditions last week against Toulouse saw them up to fifth in the table.

He insists they are still a long shot to reach the play-offs, and the fact they have four away games remaining means they probably need at least one win on their travels.

This weekend might be that opportunity, with La Rochelle missing both skipper Uini Atonio and number eight Loann Goujon, who are on international duty.

Still, La Rochelle have been outstanding at Marcel Deflandre this season, with their only loss in the league coming against Bordeaux-Bègles, all the way back in September.

While they are struggling to put teams away, they've done just enough to keep picking up those home wins, and that might yet be enough to save them.

La Rochelle: 15 Kini Murimurivalu, 14 Alofa Alofa, 13 Jean-Pascal Barraque, 12 Levani Botia, 11 Malietoa Hingano, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Julien Audy, 8 Kevin Gourdon, 7 Jone Qovu, 6 Jason Eaton, 5 Leandro Cedaro, 4 Romana Graham, 3 Lekso Kaulashvili, 2 Hikairo Forbes, 1 Vincent Pelo
Replacements: 16 Benjamin Geledan, 17 Thomas Synaeghel, 18 Jacobus Grobler, 19 Nicolas Djebaili, 20 Julien Berger, 21 Fabien Fortassin, 22 Sereli Bobo, 23 Benoit Bourrust

Oyonnax: 15 Florian Denos (c), 14 Silvère Tian, 13 Roimata Hansell Pune, 12 Hemani Paea, 11 Dug Codjo, 10 Benjamin Urdapilleta, 9 Fabien Cibray, 8 Viliami Ma'afu, 7 Valentin Ursache, 6 Maurie Fa'asavalu, 5 Thibault Lassalle, 4 Leon Power, 3 Marc Clerc, 2 Jody Jenneker, 1 Soane Tonga'uiha 
Replacements: 16 Paula Ngauamo, 17 Ruaan Du Preez, 18 Pedrie Wannenburg, 19 Olivier Missoup, 20 Agustin Figuerola, 21 Regis Lespinas, 22 Alaska Taufa, 23 Lukas Rapant

Previous result: Oyonnax won 22-12 in ProD2 in 2012
Kick-off: 18.30 local (17.30 GMT)
Referee: Maxime Chalon

Stade Français v Grenoble
Stade Jean Bouin, Paris

Jules Plisson's last-second drop goal gave Stade Français a thoroughly deserved win at Bordeaux and they are now right back in the race for a semi-final spot.

A win over Grenoble would all but seal a first play-off spot in six years, but Stade will be without Plisson and try-scorer Rabah Slimani, with both on the bench for France in Italy.

Grenoble had to settle for a bonus point away at Racing last time out, but that was enough to keep themselves in contention for a top six spot.

While Rory Grice, currently suspended, is a big loss, they still have the league's best kicker in Jonathan Wisniewski.

And although Morne Steyn had a good game in Bordeaux, it was virtually his first good performance since arriving in Paris, and relying on a second this weekend might be optimistic.

Both sides have four home games remaining, so are well-placed to reach the play-offs, although Grenoble have to host Toulon, Clermont and Toulouse before the season is out.

Stade Français: 15 Djibril Camara, 14 Julien Arias, 13 Paul Williams, 12 Jonathan Danty, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Jérôme Fillol, 8 Jono Ross, 7 Raphaël Lakafia, 6 Antoine Burban, 5 Gerhard Mostert, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Davit Kubriashvili, 2 Aled de Malmanche, 1 Heinke van der Merwe
Replacements: 16 Laurent Sempéré, 17 Sakaria Taulafo, 18 Paul Gabrillagues, 19 Scott Lavalla, 20 Julien Dupuy, 21 Meyer Bosman, 22 Jeremy Sinzelle, 23 Sofiane Chellat

Grenoble: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Benjamin Thiery, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Jackson Willison, 11 Xavier Mignot, 10 Jonathan Wisniewski, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Florian Faure, 7 Peter Kimlin, 6 Fabien Alexandre, 5 Hendrik Roodt, 4 Benjamin Hand, 3 Dayna Edwards, 2 Arnaud Héguy, 1 Fabien Barcella
Replacements: 16 Laurent Bouchet, 17 Denis Coulson, 18 Ross Skeate, 19 Mahamadou Diaby, 20 Henry Vanderglas, 21 James Hart, 22 Fabien Gengenbacher, 23 Jono Owen

Result last season: Stade Français won 21-6
Kick-off: 18.30 local (17.30 GMT)
Referee: Sébastien Minery

Lyon v Toulon
Matmut Stadium, Lyon

As we reach the end of the season Toulon have stamped their authority on the league, and now look set to finish the season top of the pile.

A convincing win over Bayonne sent them back to the summit of the Top 14, and they will be looking to back that up with a win in Lyon.

Having said that, Bernard Laporte's side haven't won on the road in the league since October, and that's something they'll have to change if they want to guarantee a semi-final spot.

This weekend they travel to Lyon to take on a side described by president Yann Roubert as 'undoubtedly not the worst team in the league, but definitely the most stupid'.

That followed the heartbreaking loss to Castres which saw Lyon miss the chance to move out of the bottom two, and the next three games are all about staying in touch.

After this home game against the champions, Lyon face two away games before finishing with three of their last four games at home.

If they are still in contention for survival by the end of April, they could pull off a great escape, a win over Toulon on Saturday would be a great start.

Lyon: 15 Romain Loursac, 14 Toby Arnold, 13 Kendrick Lynn, 12 Fabrice Estebanez, 11 Mosese Ratuvou, 10 Stephen Brett, 9 Enrico Januarie, 8 George Smith, 7 Karim Ghezal, 6 Julien Puricelli, 5 Lionel Nallet (c), 4 Mickaël De Marco, 3 Anthony Roux, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Francisco Tetaz

Replacements: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 Emmanuel Felsina, 18 Steevy Cerqueira, 19 Eugene N'Zi, 20 Mathieu Lorée, 21 Waisele Sukanaveita, 22 Lachie Munro, 23 Horatiu Pungea

Toulon: 15 Delon Armitage, 14 Drew Mitchell, 13 Rudi Wulf, 12 Juan-Martin Hernandez, 11 David Smith, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Steffon Armitage, 7 Juan-Martin Fernandez Lobbe, 6 Juan Smith, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Carl Hayman, 2 Jean-Charles Orioli, 1 Alexandre Menini
Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Florian Fresia, 18 Jocelino Suta, 19 Chris Masoe, 20 Jimmy Yobo, 21 Josua Tuisova, 22 Eric Escande, 23 Martin Castrogiovanni

Previous result: Toulon won 29-5 in 2012
Kick-off: 20.45 local (19.45 GMT)
Referee: Pascal Pechambert