Top 14 Preview: Round 16

Date published: February 27 2016

Last weekend gave us an indication of the fates of one team at the top of the table and the two going down, but the first doublon of the Six Nations will be a key fixture.

With internationals absent, there are always surprises, and Brive will have the first chance to cause an upset at Toulon.

Stade Français, decimated by call-ups, host Grenoble while a seemingly doomed Agen host La Rochelle.

Clermont, fresh from their win at Castres host a struggling Oyonnax team, and Pau will hope to build on their shock win at Montpellier when they welcome Bordeaux-Bègles.

Leaders Racing 92 host Castres in the final game on Saturday before a potentially crucial game on Sunday when Toulouse entertain Montpellier.



Toulon v Brive
Stade Français v Grenoble
Agen v La Rochelle
Clermont v Oyonnax
Pau v Bordeaux-Bègles
Racing 92 v Castres


Toulouse v Montpellier

Toulon v Brive
Stade Félix Mayol, Toulon

A convincing win at Oyonnax put Toulon firmly in the hunt for a top two spot, and the fact they only have two players away with France will certainly help their cause.

They host a Brive team who looked like beating the champions on their own patch last time out, before falling away in the second half against Stade Français.

This should be an even tougher task, with Toulon starting to hit their straps, particularly with a pack that has been dominant recently.

The battle at scrum and maul-time should be fascinating but anything other than a home win would be a real shock.

Toulon: 15 Delon Armitage, 14 Drew Mitchell, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Josua Tuisova, 10 Tom Taylor, 9 Jonathan Pélissié, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Steffon Armitage, 6 Juan Smith, 5 Romain Taofifenua, 4 Jocelino Suta (c), 3 Manasa Saulo, 2 Jean-Charles Orioli, 1 Florian Fresia
Replacements: 16 Iuri Natriashvili, 17 Alexandre Menini, 18 Thibault Lassalle, 19 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, 20 Eric Escande, 21 Quade Cooper, 22 Theo Belan, 23 Levan Chilachava

Brive: 15 Gaetan Germain, 14 Benito Masilevu, 13 Arnaud Mignardi, 12 Benjamin Petre, 11 Alfi Mafi, 10 Mathieu Uglade, 9 Teddy Iribaren, 8 Sisi Koyamaibole, 7 Petrus Hauman (c), 6 Poutasi Luafutu, 5 Dominiko Waqaniburotu, 4 Johan Snyman, 3 Giorgi Jgenti, 2 Guillaume Ribes, 1 Kevin BuysDamien Lavergne
Replacements: 16 Francois Da Ros, 17 Goderze Shvelidze, 18 Victor Lebas, 19 Fabien Sanconnie, 20 Said Hireche, 21 Nicolas Bezy, 22 Sevenaia Galala, 23 Yusuf Tuncer

Last year's result: Toulon won 34-11
Kick-off: 14:45 local (13:45 GMT)
Referee: Cedric Marchat

Stade Français v Grenoble
Stade Jean Bouin, Paris

Djibril Camara was the latest player called into the national team, and while Gonzalo Quesada will be pleased for his winger, he’ll be scratching his head at how to cope with the absences.

There will be six Stade players starting in Cardiff, many of whom made a big difference in last week’s win over Brive.

Add in the absence of Sergio Parisse, and this looks primed for Grenoble to pick up a third away win of the season.

That would go some way to making up for last week’s loss at home to Racing. Dan Carter’s kick may have been brilliant, but Grenoble will have been furious at the way they switched off at such a crucial moment.

Neither side looks like genuine contenders for the top six, but a win here might yet spark a late run for the play-offs.

Stade Français: 15 Hugo Bonneval, 14 Julien Arias, 13 Waisea Nayacalevu, 12 Paul Williams, 11 Jeremy Sinzelle, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Julien Dupuy, 8 Jono Ross, 7 Raphael Lakafia, 6 Sekou Macalou, 5 Pascal Papé, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Paul Alo-Emile, 2 Laurent Panis, 1 Zak Taulafo
Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Emmanuel Felsina, 18 Gerhard Mostert, 19 Mathieu de Giovanni, 20 Clement Daguin, 21 Meyer Bosman, 22 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 23 Adrien Oléon

Grenoble: 15 Fabien Gengenbacher, 14 Lucas Dupont, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Fabien Estebanez, 11 Armand Battle, 10 Gilles Bosch, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Henry Vanderglas, 7 Mahamadou Diaby, 6 Steven Setephano, 5 James Percival, 4 Ben Hand, 3 Dayna Edwards, 2 Loick Jammes, 1 Fabien Barcella
Replacements: 16 Laurent Bouchet, 17 Denis Coulson, 18 Hendrik Roodt, 19 Rory Grice, 20 Christophe Loustalot, 21 Jonathan Wisniewski, 22 Daniel Kilioni, 23 Walter Desmaison

Last year's result: Grenoble won 30-21
Kick-off: 18:30 local (17:30 GMT)
Referee: Sébastien Minery

Agen v La Rochelle
Stade Armandie, Agen

Another battling display, and another defeat, Agen’s fate appears to be sealed, and they will have a tough task at home to an in-form La Rochelle.

Les Maritimes comprehensively saw off Toulouse last week, but are without both props Vincent Pelo and Uini Atonio on France duty.

Agen at least managed a bonus point last time out, which not every team manages at Bordeaux, but even a win here would still leave them well adrift of 12th spot and safety.

For La Rochelle, a win could get them back in the play-off hunt, and while they might not have the squad depth to really challenge this season, they are a team on the rise and have already recruited well for next year.

Agen: 15 Filipo Nakosi, 14 George Tilsley, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Lionel Mazars (c), 11 Pierre Fouyssac, 10 Burton Francis, 9 Clement Darbo, 8 Luke Hamilton, 7 Antoine Erbani, 6 Marc Baget, 5 Marco Kotze, 4 Api Ratuniyarawa, 3 Arthur Joly, 2 Mike Tadjer, 1 Arsene Nnomo
Replacements: 16 Jalil Narjissi, 17 Giorgi Tetrashvili, 18 Corentin Braendlin, 19 Remy Vaquin, 20 Sione Tau, 21 Alexi Bales, 22 François Bouvier, 23 Dave Ryan

La Rochelle: 15 Benjamin Lapeyre, 14 Gabriel Lacroix, 13 Pierre Aguillon, 12 Levani Botia, 11 Kini Murimurivalu, 10 Zack Holmes, 9 Enrico Januarie, 8 Kevin Gourdon, 7 Afa Amosa, 6 Romana Graham, 5 Leandro Cedaro, 4 Romain Sazy, 3 Gagi Bazadze, 2 Maxime Gau, 1 Thomas Synaeghel
Replacements: 16 Hikairo Forbes, 17 Jordan Seneca, 18 Damien Lagrange, 19 Jone Quvo, 20 Julien Audy, 21 Jean Pascal Barraque, 22 Pierre Bérard, 23 David Feao

Previous result: La Rochelle won 33-21 in Pro D2 in 2014
Kick-off: 18:30 local (17:30 GMT)
Referee: Maxime Chalon

Clermont v Oyonnax
Stade Marcel Michelin, Clermont Ferrand

In an incredible season last year, arguably no performance was more memorable for Oyonnax than going to win at the Stade Marcel Michelin.

The smallest club in the Top 14 won at the once impenetrable fortress, albeit against a much-weakened Clermont team.

Les Jaunards ended their slump last week with an impressive win at Castres, but have lost three straight at home in the league.

Against a team that looks to be heading down, they will expect to put an end to that run, but there are still a number of players absent through injury, while others are on international duty.

The key may well be Brock James, who is in the form of his life, and making the decision to let him go at the end of the year look more foolish with every game.

As for Oyonnax, they were comfortably beaten at home by Toulon last week and now lie ten points from safety. A Pau victory at home on Saturday and they could find themselves doomed, along with Agen, to a return to a Pro D2.

Clermont: 15 Isaia Toeava, 14 David Strettle, 13 Aurélien Rougerie, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Noa Nakaitaci, 10 Brock James, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Alexandre Lapandry, 6 Peceli Yato, 5 Loic Jacquet, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Dan Kotze, 2 John Ulugia, 1 Raphael Chaume
Replacements: 16 Zak van der Westhuizen, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 19 Camille Gerondeau, 20 Ludovic Radosavljevic, 21 Camille Lopez, 22 Albert Vulivuli, 23 Clément Ric

Oyonnax: 15 Florian Denos, 14 Daniel Ikpefan, 13 Eamonn Sheridan, 12 Roimata Hansell-Pune, 11 Uwe Tawalo, 10 Quentin Etienne, 9 Fabien Cibray, 8 Pedrie Wannenburg, 7 Patrick Sobela, 6 Valentin Ursache, 5 Geoffrey Fabbri, 4 Leon Power, 3 Marc Clerc, 2 Jeremie Maurouard, 1 Soane Tonga'uiha
Replacements: 16 Jody Jenneker, 17 Lukas Rapant, 18 George Robson, 19 Maurie Fa'asavalu, 20 Arthur Aziza, 21 Regis Lespinas, 22 Jimmy Yobo, 23 Antoine Guillamon

Last year's result: Oyonnax won 11-10
Kick-off: 18:30 local (17:30 GMT)
Referee: Laurent Cardona

Pau v Bordeaux-Bègles
Stade du Hameau, Pau

The value of Pau’s All Blacks was clear for all to see last week when Colin Slade scored all the points to give Pau a stunning win away at Montpellier.

If they can back it up at home to Bordeaux-Bègles this week, the team from the Béarn will have taken a massive stride towards safety.

Bordeaux have won two close games at home in recent weeks and currently sit fifth in the table.

However they know they will have to step things up this week if they are going to maintain their place in the top six.

Just two points separate them from a potential home barrage, albeit having played a game more, but Raphael Ibanez’s team are without Jefferson Poirot and Loann Goujon.

Pau are one of the teams with no French representation, and will expect to make the most of that this weekend.

Previous result: Pau won 25-15 in 2010 in Pro D2
Kick-off: 18:30 local (17:30 GMT)
Referee: Cyril Lafon

Racing 92 v Castres
Stade Yves du Manoir, Colombes

The longer the season goes on, the more it seems that Racing are the team to beat. For so long Jacky Lorenzetti had been desperate to establish his team as the best in France.

They were the most impressive French team in Europe and now sit comfortably clear at the summit of the Top 14.

Dan Carter is clearly enjoying his new role, and the depth in the squad means that the numerous French call-ups don’t appear to be disrupting the side.

Maxime Machenaud is absent this week, but at Grenoble he limped off relatively early and young replacement Xavier Chauveau showed that he was a more than able deputy.

Meanwhile Castres’ play-off hopes hit a speed bump last week with a loss at home to Clermont.

Up against the coaching duo that led them to the title in 2013, Castres need an immediate response, and it will be interesting to see the mindset of David Smith. Called up and then dropped from the France squad during an eligibility fiasco, Christophe Urios won’t want his in-form winger to lose the scoring touch.

Last year's result: Racing won 53-10
Kick-off: 20:45 local (19:45 GMT)
Referee: Salem Attalah

Toulouse v Montpellier
Stade Ernest Wallon

Two teams who endured dreadful weekends last time out will meet in Toulouse on Sunday as Montpellier come to town.

A pair of South Africans arrived in Montpellier this week as medical jokers, and Pierre Spies and Francois Steyn are expected to get game time sooner rather than later.

Their status as medical jokers makes a mockery of the system to some extent. Both had been signed earlier in the season to arrive after their seasons in Japan, so these are not a response to any injuries picked up in the squad.

Spies replaces Antoine Battut, who needs an operation on his hand, while Steyn is cover for Ilian Perraux, a fringe fly-half who is also done for the year.

From an ethical point of view it is certainly pushing the boundaries, but Jake White won’t mind, particularly with François Trinh-Duc back with France.

Toulouse are also without a number of key players and Ugo Mola’s men will have to be at their best if they are to preserve one of the few remaining unbeaten home records in the Top 14.

Last year's result: Toulouse won 18-13
Kick-off: 16:15 local (15:15 GMT)
Referee: Jérôme Garcès