Top 14 Preview: Round 23

Date published: April 24 2015

After a week off for European action, the Top 14 returns with the bottom five all at home and in need of wins this weekend.

La Rochelle and Castres could be the big beneficiaries this week, as they host Toulon and Clermont respectively, a week before the two big guns meet in the Champions Cup final.

If they are successful, Bayonne and Brive will need to match them against Grenoble and Montpellier, while Lyon's hopes of survival rest on a victory at home to Bordeaux-Bègles.

Finally Oyonnax, the season's surprise package, can justify their play-off credentials if they can down Racing-Métro to complete the double over the Parisian side this season.

Stade Français v Toulouse

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

La Rochelle v Toulon
Stade Marcel Deflandre

The form team in the Top 14 welcomes the current leader at Marcel Deflandre, and La Rochelle will be keen to extend their recent unbeaten run.

With just four points separating Patrice Collazo's side from the relegation spots, La Rochelle are far from safe, but they couldn't have asked for a better time to play Toulon.

The French champions will surely be more focused on next weekend's Champions Cup final as they aim to make it three in a row, something that has never been achieved in Europe.

Their win at Grenoble a fortnight ago showed that even when resting some of their top players, Toulon are a tough proposition, and another win on the road would all but secure their place in the top two.

La Rochelle haven't lost in the Top 14 since January however, the longest unbeaten run of any team this season, and their only defeat at Marcel Deflandre came against Bordeaux-Bègles back in September.

With trips to Lyon and Bayonne still to come, survival is very much in La Rochelle's hands. A win on Saturday and they'll be almost there.

La Rochelle: 15 Kini Murimurivalu, 14 Alofa Alofa, 13 Eliott Roudil, 12 Malietoa Hingano, 11 Sireli Bobo, 10 Fabien Fortassin, 9 Julien Audy, 8 Loann Goujon, 7 Kevin Gourdon, 6 Romain Sazy, 5 Leandro Cedaro, 4 Jason Eaton, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Hikairo Forbes, 1 Vincent Pelo
Replacements: 16 Benjamin Geledan, 17 Jordan Seneca, 18 Jacobus Grobler, 19 Jone Qovu, 20 Julien Berger, 21 Peter Grant, 22 Charles Bouldoire, 23 Lekso Kaulashvili

Toulon: 15 Drew Mitchell, 14 Josua Tuisova, 13 Rudi Wulf, 12 Jimmy Yobo, 11 David Smith, 10 Frédéric Michalak, 9 Eric Escande, 8 Gerhard Vosloo, 7 Mamuka Gorgodze, 6 Virgile Bruni, 5 Jocelino Suta, 4 Romain Taofifenua, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Alexandre Menini

Replacements: 16 Jean-Charles Orioli, 17 Florian Fresia, 18 Konstantin Mikautadze, 19 Juan Martín Fernandez Lobbe, 20 Matt Giteau, 21 Bryan Habana, 22 Sébastian Tillous-Borde, 23 Levan Chilachava

Previous result: Toulon won 15-13 in 2010
Kick-off: 14:45 local (13:45 GMT)
Referee: Pascal Gauzère

Bayonne v Grenoble
Stade Jean Dauger, Bayonne

It was a frustrating weekend last time out for both Bayonne and Grenoble, and there is a lot riding on this weekend's clash in the Basque country.

Bayonne are currently second bottom, having been denied a win at Toulouse late on so this really is a must-win game for them.

Grenoble have their own reasons to be disappointed at their last outing, having outscored Toulon four tries to two but come away with nothing for their efforts.

Successive home defeats have put a dent into Grenoble's play-off challenge, and they trail sixth-placed Oyonnax by five points.

With tricky home games to come against Clermont and Toulouse, their away fixtures become all the more important, and they will probably have to beat either Bayonne, or Lyon on the final day, if they are to crack the top six.

Jean Dauger hasn't been a fortress this season, so Grenoble will fancy their chances of a third away win of the campaign.

Bayonne have experience when it comes to relegation battles however, and with just four points separating tenth from 13th, every win counts.

Bayonne: 15 Scott Spedding, 14 Joe Rokocoko, 13 Gabiriele Lovobalavu, 12 Matthieu Ugalde, 11 Marvin O'Connor, 10 Santiago Fernandez, 9 Guillaume Rouet, 8 Benjamin Macome, 7 Jean-Jo Marmouyet, 6 Jean Monribot, 5 Mark Chisholm, 4 Pelu Taele, 3 Aretz Iguiniz, 2 David Roumieu, 1 Lucas Pointud

Replacements: 16 Anthony Etrillard, 17 Gert Muller, 18 Charles Ollivon, 19 Lisiate Fa'aoso, 20 Christophe Loustalot, 21 Bastien Fuster, 22 Martin Bustos Moyano, 23 JC Janse Van Rensburg.

Grenoble: 15 Fabien Gengenbacher, 14 Alipate Ratini, 13 Chris Farrell, 12 Jackson Willison, 11 Gio Aplon, 10 Jonathan Wisniewski, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Rory Grice, 7 Fabien Alexandre, 6 Henry Vanderglas, 5 Hendrik Roodt, 4 Ben Hand, 3 Dayna Edwards, 2 Arnaud Héguy, 1 Fabien Barcella

Replacements: 16 Laurent Bouchet, 17 Albertus Buckle, 18 Paul Willemse, 19 Ross Skeate, 20 Peter Kimlin, 21 James Hart, 22 Xavier Mignot, 23 Jono Owen

Result last season: Bayonne won 24-21
Kick-off: 18.30 local (17.30 GMT)
Referee: Vincet Blasco Baque

Brive v Montpellier
Stade Amédée Domenech, Brive

A recent upswing in results has got Montpellier back into the play-off picture but they probably have to beat Brive to stay in contention.

It's no coincidence that the return of François Trinh-Duc has come at the same time as the turnaround, and when he's available, Montpellier are a play-off calibre team.

Last time out they fought back to grab a stunning draw at Racing, and they are just three points behind Oyonnax in the race for sixth.

Winning at Brive isn't easy though, and Nicolas Godignon's side are equally desperate for points.

Just two points clear of the bottom two, a loss would be catastrophic but Brive haven't been beaten at home since September.

While that is an impressive run, they only scraped past bottom side Lyon a fortnight ago, and they will be well-aware that an improved display will be required.

Brive: 15 Gaeten Germain, 14 Guillaume Namy, 13 Sevania Galala, 12 Riaan Swanepoel, 11 Benito Masilevu, 10 Nicolas Bézy, 9 Jean-Baptiste Péjoine, 8 Sisi Koyamaibole, 7 Saïd Hirèche, 6 Petrus Hauman, 5 Arnaud Mela, 4 Peet Marais, 3 Kevin Buys, 2 Francois Da Ros, 1 Karien Asieshvili

Replacements: 16 Thomas Acquier, 17 Johan Coetzee, 18 Dominiko Waqaniburotu, 19 Hughes Briatte, 20 Damien Neveu, 21 Roman Sola, 22 Alfie Mafi, 23 Giorgi Jgenti

Montpellier: 15 Ben Lucas, 14 Lucas Dupont, 13 Anthony Tuitavake, 12 Albert Vulivuli, 11 Yohann Artru, 10 François Trinh-Duc, 9 Benoît Paillaugue, 8 Ben Mowen, 7 Akapusi Qera, 6 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 5 Thibault Privat, 4 Robins Tchale-Watchou, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Mickaël Ivaldi, 1 Mikheil Nariashvili

Replacements: 16 Charles Geli, 17 Yvan Watremez, 18 Tom Donnelly, 19 Antoine Battut, 20 Jonathan Pelissié, 21 Wynand Olivier, 22 Benoît Sicart, 23 Chris King.

Result last season: Brive won 15-9
Kick-off: 18.30 local (17.30 GMT)
Referee: Mathieu Raynal

Lyon v Bordeaux-Bègles
Matmut Stadium, Lyon

A narrow loss to Brive last week all but ended Lyon's hopes of staying up, but they can prolong their stay a little longer with a win against a reeling Bordeaux-Bègles.

Raphaël Ibanez's side were on course for a play-off spot before the Six Nations, but are now desperately looking over their shoulders after four straight losses.

They are just five points clear of Bayonne in 13th, and while there are enough teams in between that they should be safe, Bordeaux need to get their act together quickly.

The talk of Ibanez replacing Philippe Saint-André really seems to have affected the side although three of their four defeats have been by two points or less.

While Bordeaux should survive, Lyon are pretty much done, but they clearly intend to make an immediate return, with Pascal Papé the latest player rumoured to be joining, with Julien Bonnaire having already signed on for next season.

They do have two more winnable home games after this, as well as a trip to Oyonnax, so Lyon aren't completely doomed but the seven point gap at the bottom will be tough to overcome.

Lyon: 15 Jérôme Porical, 14 Toby Arnold, 13 Paul Bonnefond, 12 Thibaut Regard, 11 Franck Romanet, 10 Fabrice Estebanez, 9 Mathieu Lorée, 8 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 7 George Smith, 6 Julien Puricelli, 5 Coenraad Basson, 4 Lionel Nallet, 3 Horatiu Pungea, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Jérémy Castex

Replacements: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 Emmanuel Felsina, 18 Karim Ghezal, 19 Eugène N’Zi, 20 Ricky Januarie, 21 Lachie Munro, 22 Vincent Martin, 23 Anthony Roux

Bordeaux-Bègles: 15 Ulrich Beyers, 14 Sofiane Guitoune, 13 Jayden Spence, 12 Julien Rey, 11 Blair Connor, 10 Lionel Beauxis, 9 Heini Adams, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Hugo Chalmers, 6 Louis-Benoît Madaule, 5 Jandré Marais, 4 Julien Le Devedec, 3 Francisco Gomez Kodela, 2 Ole Avei, 1 Jean-Baptise Poux

Replacements: 16 Clément Maynadier, 17 Jefferson Poirot, 18 Berend Botha, 19 Marco Tauleigne, 20 Baptiste Serin, 21 Metuisela Talebula, 22 Pierre Bernard, 23 Patrick Toetu

Previous result: Lyon won 24-13 in 2012
Kick-off: 18.30 local (17.30 GMT)
Referee: Cedric Marchat

Oyonnax v Racing-Métro
Stade Charles Mathon, Oyonnax

A battle between play-off contenders, one more of a surprise than the other, will take place at Charles Mathon on Saturday.

Oyonnax's charge for a top six spot arguably began away at Racing-Métro, when they stunned the Parisians to move off the foot of the Top 14 table.

Since then Oyonnax have won nine out of 12, including their shock success at Clermont last time out.

While they took on what was essentially a Clermont second team, it was still a historic win at the Marcel Michelin, and gives them a great chance of making the top six.

To do so they will have to win their remaining home games, but Racing have lots of play for as well, with a home barrage on the line.

They currently lead Toulouse on head to head results, but with four games left, they could yet finish in the top two or outside the play-offs.

Throwing away a big lead to draw at home to Montpellier may yet come back to haunt them, but they've shown their ability to grind out wins on the road, with successes at Bayonne, Castres, Lyon and Montpellier this season.

A fifth away win would set them up nicely ahead of the Paris derby in a fortnight's time.

Oyonnax: 15 Florian Denos (c), 14 Silvère Tian, 13 Guillaume Bousses, 12 Hemani Paea, 11 Dug Codjo, 10 Benjamin Urdapilleta, 9 Fabien Cibray, 8 Villami Ma'afu, 7 Olivier Missoup, 6 Maurie Fa'asavalu, 5 Damien Lagrange, 4 Thibault Lassalle, 3 Marc Clerc, 2 Jody Jenneker, 1 Soane Tonga'uiha

Replacements: 16 Paula Ngauamo, 17 Ruaan du Preez, 18 Mirek Nemecek, 19 Pedrie Wannenburg, 20 Valentin Ursache, 21 Regis Lespinas, 22 Roimata Hansell-Pune, 23 Antoine Tichit

Racing-Métro:  15 Brice Dulin, 14 Juan Imhoff, 13 Henry Chavancy, 12 Alexandre Dumoulin, 11 Teddy Thomas, 10 Benjamin Dambielle, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Antoine Claassen, 7 Camille Gerondeau,  6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Francois van der Merwe, 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Luc Ducalcon, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Eddy Ben Arous

Replacements: 16 Virgile Lacombe, 17 Julien Brugnaut, 18 Juandré Kruger, 19 Thibault Dubarry, 20 Mike Phillips, 21 Johan Goosen, 22 Casey Laulala, 23 Brian Mujati

Result last season: Oyonnax won 6-0
Kick-off: 18.30 local (17.30 GMT)
Referee: Pascal Pechambert

Castres v Clermont
Stade Pierre Antoine, Castres

The great escape is very much on for Castres, and they welcome a Clermont team that will surely be more focused on their Champions Cup final next week.

That doesn't make this a foregone conclusion, but Castres will fancy their chances of extending an unbeaten home record against les Jaunards that stretches all the way back to 1976.

Last year Brock James' last-gasp drop goal gave Clermont a draw at Pierre Antoine, and they would no doubt gratefully take the same again, as they look to hang on to a top two spot.

Their surprise defeat at home to Oyonnax has made an automatic semi-final spot a little less certain, with just a point separating them from Stade Français.

With three away games in their last four, Clermont will need at least one success on their travels, but Castres are in good form at the moment.

After beating Grenoble away from home, they sneaked past Bordeaux last time out, moving out of the bottom two for the first time since January.

Two more home wins might be enough to save them, but given that they still have to travel to both Toulon and Racing-Métro, defeat here would probably see them go down.

Castres: 15 Geoffrey Palis, 14 Remy Grosso, 13 Thomas Combezou, 12 Rémi Lamerat, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Rémi Tàles, 9 Rory Kockott, 8 Johnnie Beattie, 7 Yannick Caballero, 6 Ibrahim Diarra, 5 Rodrigo Capo Ortega, 4 Christophe Samson, 3 Karem Wihongi, 2 Brice Mach, 1 Mihal Lazar

Replacements: 16 Mathieu Bonnello, 17 Yannick Forestier, 18 Benjamin Desroche, 19 Jannie Bornman, 20 Lucas Dupont, 21 Julien Dumora, 22 Romain Cabannes, 23 Ramiro Herrera

Clermont: 15 Jean-Marcellin Buttin, 14 Zac Guildford, 13 Aurélien Rougerie (c), 12 Benson Stanley, 11 Julien Malzieu, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Peceli Yato, 7 Alexandre Lapandry, 6 Julien Kazubek, 5 Julien Pierre, 4 Loïc Jacquet, 3 Clément Ric, 2 John Ulugia, 1 Raphaël Chaume

Replacements: 16 Ti'i Paulo, 17 Thomas Domingo, 18 Paul Jedrasiak, 19 Damien Chouly, 20 Ludovic Radosavljevic, 21 Mike Delany, 22 Noa Nakaitaci, 23 Michael Simutoga

Result last season: The teams drew 22-22
Kick-off: 20.45 local (19.45 GMT)
Referee: Christophe Berdos