Top 14 Preview: Round 26

Date published: May 22 2015

It says something about how tight the Top 14 has been this year that there is something riding on every game heading into the final round.

From the top two spots and automatic semi-final, to relegation, via a place in the play-offs, all seven games will be tense.

At the bottom it looks like a straight shootout between Bayonne and Brive, who host La Rochelle and Stade Français respectively, but Grenoble aren’t completely safe yet.

Meanwhile at the top Toulon, Clermont and Stade Français are all fighting for a semi-final spot, with Toulouse hovering in case of a slip-up.

Finally Bordeaux-Bègles, Racing-Métro and Oyonnax are battling for two play-off spots with the Parisians currently on the outside looking in.

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

Bayonne v La Rochelle
Stade Jean Dauger, Bayonne

The merger talk has been pushed to one side and as is so often the case, Bayonne find themselves in must-win mode on the final weekend.

La Rochelle secured their own future last week with a draw against Racing-Métro, and they could complete a stunning second half to the campaign having not lost since January.

But this weekend it’s all about Bayonne, who are currently 13th, a point behind Brive. Defeat would signal relegation to the second flight, while even a win might not be enough.

They were well-beaten at Bordeaux last week, but back at Jean Dauger, against a team with nothing to play for, they have it in them to pull off a win.

That in itself might not be enough, but a bonus-point success would drag Grenoble back into the relegation scrap as well.

The supporters should be fully behind the club now that the fusion with Biarritz has been shelved, and with a passionate crowd behind them, Bayonne could get out of trouble.

The teams:

Bayonne: 15 Scott Spedding, 14 Martin Bustos Moyano, 13 Joe Rokocoko, 12 Matthieu Ugalde, 11 Marvin O'Connor, 10 Santiago Fernandez, 9 Guillaume Rouet, 8 Charles Ollivon, 7 Pierre Gayraud, 6 Jean Monribot, 5 Mark Chisholm, 4 Pelu ian Taele, 3 Gert Muller, 2 David Roumieu, 1 Lucas Pointud
Replacements: 16 Anthony Etrillard, 17 Aretz Iguiniz, 18 Lisiate Faaoso, 19 Dwayne Haare, 20 Christophe Loustalot, 21 Bastien Fuster, 22 Gabiriele Lovobalavu, 23 Nicolas Chocou.

La Rochelle: 15 Charles Bouldoire, 14 Alofa Alofa, 13 Mali Hingano, 12 Levani Botia Veivuke, 11 Sireli Bobo, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Julien Berger, 8 Loann Goujon, 7 Jone Qovu, 6 Romana Graham, 5 Leandro Cedaro, 4 Mathieu Tanguy, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Hikairo Forbes, 1 Vincent Pelo.
Replacements: 16 Jordan Seneca, 17 Mike Corbel, 18 Nicolas Djebaili, 19 Romain Sazy, 20 Benoit
Guyot, 21 Julien Audy, 22 Jean Pascal Barraque, 23 Lekso Kaulashvili.

Previous result: Bayonne won 23-14 in 2010
Kick-off: 16:15 local (14:15 GMT)
Referee: Salem Attalah

Brive v Stade Français
Stade Amédée Domenech, Brive

If recent form is anything to go by, Brive will need help from elsewhere, but while they’ve been soundly beaten in their last two games, they are different proposition at home.

Unbeaten at home since September, a win would be enough to keep them up regardless of Bayonne’s result.

The problem is they host an in-form Stade Français side who are chasing a semi-final place.

Last week’s win over Montpellier was enough to secure a play-off spot for the first time in six seasons, and they will finish in the top two if they win on the final day and either Clermont or Toulon slip up.

They’ve not got a great record at Brive, and only just edged the meeting between the two sides earlier this season, but they have some momentum behind them.

No team has won more games on their travels this season, and having already turned over the likes of Toulon and city rivals Racing a fortnight ago, they will be keen to add Brive to their collection.

Sergio Parisse will return after his ban, so the only major absentee is Jules Plisson, with Morné Steyn again charged with filling his shoes.

The teams:

Brive: 15 Gaetan Germain, 14 Guillaume Namy, 13 Arnaud Mignardi, 12 Andrew Mailei, 11 Benito Masilevu, 10 Riaan Swanepoel, 9 Jean-Baptiste Pejoine, 8 Sisa Koyamaibole, 7 Said Hireche, 6 Dominiko Waqaniburotu, 5 Arnaud Mela, 4 Peet Marais, 3 Giorgi Jgenti, 2 Francois da Ros, 1 Karlen Asieshvili

Replacements: 16 Thomas Acquier, 17 Goderzi Shvelidze, 18 Hugues Briatte, 19 Putasi Luafutu, 20 Damien Neveu, 21 Romain Sola, 22 Malakai Bakaniceva Radikedike, 23 Damien Jourdain

Stade Français: 15 Djibril Camara, 14 Julian Arias, 13 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Julien Tomas, 8 Jono Ross, 7 Scott Lavalla, 6 Antoine Burban, 5 Pascal Papé, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Davit Kubriashvili, 2 Laurent Sempere, 1 Sakaria Taulafo
Replacements: 16 Remi Bonfils, 17 Zurabi Zhvania, 18 Gerhard Mostert, 19 Sergio Parisse, 20 Jérôme Fillol, 21 Jéremy Sinzelle, 22 Waisale Nayacalevu, 23 Rabah Slimani

Result last season: Brive won 28-12
Kick-off: 16:15 local (14:15 GMT)
Referee: Mathieu Raynal

Lyon v Grenoble
Matmut Stadium, Lyon

In the game with probably the least riding on it this weekend, Lyon will bid farewell to both the Top 14 and to former France skipper Lionel Nallet.

The veteran second-row will hang up his boots after the current campaign after a stellar career that included going to two World Cups and reaching the final four years ago.

It’s been a tough campaign to finish his career for the 38-year-old but he’s kept fighting until the end.

He will bow out against a Grenoble team that took a giant leap towards safety by beating Toulouse last week.

A single point would be enough for Fabrice Landreau’s side to save their place in the Top 14, but if they find themselves trailing, they’ll have a worried eye on what is happening elsewhere.

Behind on head-to-head tiebreakers with both Bayonne and Brive, Grenoble would drop into Pro D2 with Lyon if they pick up nothing from this game, Bayonne claim a bonus-point win over La Rochelle, and Brive win.

It’s unlikely that all that comes to pass, but not impossible, and for the third year running Grenoble have seen their season come apart at the seams in the closing weeks.

The teams:

Lyon: 15 Vincent Martin, 14 Toby Arnold, 13 Fabrice Estebanez, 12 Waisale Sukanaveita, 11 Mosese Ratuvou, 10 Romain Loursac, 9 Ricky Januarie, 8 Masi Matadigo, 7 George Smith, 6 Eugene N'Zi, 5 Lionel Nallet, 4 Karim Ghezal, 3 Anthony Roux, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Jeremy Castex
Replacements: 16 Bogdan Balan, 17 Cameron Mapusua, 18 Mickaël de Marco, 19 Francois Viljoen, 20 Mathieu Lorée, 21 Lachie Munro, 22 Franck Romanet, 23 Francisco Tetaz

Grenoble: 15 Fabien Gengenbacher, 14 Benjamin Thiery, 13 Xavier Mignot, 12 Nigel Hunt, 11 Gio Aplon, 10 Jonathan Wisniewski, 9 Charl Mcleod, 8 Florian Faure, 7 Fabien Alexandre, 6 Rory Grice, 5 Hendrik Roodt, 4 Benjamin Hand, 3 Dayna Edwards, 2 Laurent Bouchet, 1 Fabien Barcella
Replacements: 16 Loick Jammes, 17 Denis Coulson, 18 Ross Skeate, 19 Jonathan Best, 20 Joannes Henry, 21 Geoffroy Messina, 22 Daniel Kilioni, 23 Richard Choirat

Previous result: Lyon won 39-20 in 2010
Kick-off: 16:15 local (14:15 GMT)
Referee: Jérôme Garcès

Montpellier v Clermont

Altrad Stadium, Montpellier

Clermont travel to Montpellier knowing that a win would be enough to secure a place in the semi-finals and avoid a potentially perilous ‘barrage’.

Back-to-back wins over Grenoble and Toulon have got their Top 14 challenge back on track, but the success against essentially Toulon’s reserves last week was far from convincing.

Camille Lopez, who was this week left out of France’s World Cup squad, has looked short of confidence since his return, and is now out injured with an adductor problem.

Brock James is still recovering from the calf injury that kept him out of the Champions Cup final and it will be up to Mike Delany to step up as he did against Toulon.

While a trip to Montpellier is not an easy fixture, Jake White’s side have nothing to play for, and will be without their own fly-half. François Trinh-Duc, fresh from his call-up to the French squad, is being rested after suffering a cheekbone injury.

Theoretically Montpellier could yet sneak into seventh spot and a Champions Cup play-off, but that would require a bonus-point win over Clermont.

They managed that last year, but with talk of a divided squad, it’s hard to see them doing the same again this season.

The teams:

Montpellier: 15 Yohann Artru, 14 Albert Vulivuli, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Lucas Dupont, 10 Ben Lucas, 9 Jonathan Pélissié, 8 Akapusi Qera, 7 Kélian Galletier, 6 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 5 Thibaut Privat, 4 Tom Donnelly, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Charles Géli, 1 Mikheil Nariashvili
Replacements: 16 Mickaël Ivaldi, 17 Yvan Watremez, 18 Robins Tchale-Watchou, 19 Ben Mowen, 20 Benoît Paillaugue, 21 Pierre Bérard, 22 Benôit Sicart, 23 Pat Cilliers

Clermont: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 Aurélien Rougerie, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Napolioni Nalaga, 10 Mike Delany, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Julien Bardy, 6 Julien Bonnaire, 5 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 4 Paul Jedrasiak, 3 Davit Zirakashvili, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Thomas Domingo
Replacements: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Julien Pierre, 19 Alexandre Lapandry, 20 Ludovic Radosavljevic, 21 Thierry Lacrampe, 22 Benson Stanley, 23 Clément Ric

Result last season: Montpellier won 43-3
Kick-off: 16:15 local (14:15 GMT)
Referee: Pascal Gauzère

Racing-Métro v Castres
Stade Yves du Manoir, Colombes

Earlier this season it looked like Castres might be condemned to Pro D2 by their former coaches on the final day, but instead it’s Racing who are under pressure at Colombes.

While Castres secured their safety with a win over Brive last week, Racing dropped out of the top six when they let a lead slip late on at La Rochelle and could only draw.

As a result they need to better Bordeaux-Bègles’ result or get a win and hope Oyonnax lose at Toulon.

Realistically a win will do it for Racing, but having been in contention for a semi-final spot, their recent slump has been particularly concerning.

They’ve not won a game since late March, with their defeat to Saracens having hit the club very hard, while the one player who has been performing, Maxime Machenaud, will have to get over the disappointment of missing out on the World Cup.

Jonathan Sexton and Jamie Roberts will both be in England later this year, and they are running out of games for Racing before leaving at the end of the season.

The Irishman has underwhelmed for Racing, and will have to do something pretty special this weekend and in the play-offs to convince Jacky Lorenzetti that he wasn’t a terrible signing.

The teams:

Racing-Métro: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Juan Imhoff, 13 Henry Chavancy, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Teddy Thomas, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Antoine Claassen, 7 Camille Gerondeau, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Juandre Kruger, 3 Luc Ducalcon, 2 Virgile Lacombe, 1 Davit Khinchagishvili.
Replacements: 16 Jeremie Maurouard, 17 Eddy Ben Arous, 18 Francois van der Merwe, 19 Luc Barba, 20 Mike Phillips, 21 Benjamin Dambielle, 22 Alexandre Dumoulin, 23 Brian Mujati

Castres: 15 Romain Martial, 14 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 13 Romain Cabannes, 12 Remi Lamerat, 11 Remy Grosso, 10 Julien Dumora, 9 Rory Kockott, 8 Mathieu Babillot, 7 Jannie Bornman, 6 Ibrahim Diarra, 5 Christophe Samson, 4 Rodrigo Capo Ortega, 3 Karena Wihongi, 2 Marc-Antoine Rallier, 1 Yannick Forestier.
Replacements: 16 Mathieu Bonello, 17 Mihai Lazar, 18 Richie Gray, 19 Benjamin Desroches, 20 Yannick Caballero, 21 Cedric Garcia, 22 Thomas Combezou, 23 Yohan Montes.

Result last season: Racing won 25-15
Kick-off: 16:15 local (14:15 GMT)
Referee: Maxime Chalon

Toulon v Oyonnax
Stade Félix Mayol, Toulon

Toulon nicked a losing bonus-point away at Clermont last week despite sending a weakened side, and will fancy their chances of finishing top of the table with a win over Oyonnax on the final day.

While Christophe Urios’ side need a win to secure a first-ever play-off spot, they look to have gambled on other results going their way.

The Castres-bound boss has decided to rest most of his starters, relying on either Racing or Bordeaux losing in order to get a week’s rest before the play-offs.

Toulon, on the other hand, are set to welcome some of their big guns back as they look to complete the double for the second year in a row.

That means no final game at Mayol for David Smith, the competition’s top try-scorer who is off at the end of the season.

It shouldn’t slow Toulon though, and they will expect maximum points and top spot at the end of the regular season.

The teams:

Toulon: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Drew Mitchell, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 Sébastian Tillous-Borde, 8 Chris Masoe, 7 Steffon Armitage, 6 Juan Smith, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Carl Hayman (c), 2 Guihelm Guirado, 1 Xavier Chiocci
Replacements: 16 Jean-Charles Orioli, 17 Alexandre Menini, 18 Jocelino Suta, 19 Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe, 20 Josua Tuisova, 21 Rudi Wulf, 22 Eric Escande, 23 Levan Chilachava

Oyonnax: 15 Riaan Smit, 14 Yves Donguy, 13 Guillaume Bousses, 12 Roimata Hansell Pune, 11 Dug Codjo, 10 Regis Lespinas, 9 Yohan Domenech, 8 Pedrie Wannenburg, 7 Guillaume Bernad, 6 Valentin Ursache, 5 Miroslav Nemecek, 4 Leon Power, 3 Ruaan du PreezMarc Clerc, 2 Clement Jullien, 1 Soane Tonga'uihaAntoine Tichit
Replacements: 16 Jody Jenneker, 17 Bees Roux, 18 Geoffrey Fabbri, 19 Patrick Sobela, 20 Enele Taufa, 21 Hemani Paea, 22 Jean-Francois Coux, 23 Lukas Rapant

Result last season: Toulon won 64-10
Kick-off: 16:15 local (14:15 GMT)
Referee: Laurent Cardona

Toulouse v Bordeaux-Bègles
Stade Ernest Wallon, Toulouse

Toulouse were the form team in the Top 14 but that mattered little when they were comprehensively beaten at Grenoble last week.

That loss all but ended Toulouse’s hopes of cracking the top two, and they will likely have to settle for a home play-off game, potentially a repeat of last season’s ‘barrage’ against Racing.

This weekend they take on another potential play-off rival in Bordeaux-Bègles, with the added spice of a match-up between France candidates Guy Novès and Raphael Ibanez.

While the Bordeaux man was the favourite for much of the season, it seems that Novès will get the job, despite reports this week that it’s perhaps not a done deal.

Bordeaux know that a bonus-point win would guarantee them a play-off spot, but any sort of win would likely get them into the top six.

The recent games between the sides have been very tight, with Toulouse winning at Bordeaux earlier this year by a single point after Pierre Bernard’s late missed conversion.

Given the way the two teams are playing, it could be the same again here.

The teams:

Toulouse: 15 Yoann Huget, 14 Vincent Clerc, 13 Yann David, 12 Luke McAlister, 11 Timoci Matanavou, 10 Jean-Marc Doussain, 9 Sébastien Bézy, 8 Gillian Galan, 7 Imanol Harinordoquy, 6 Thierry Dusautoir, 5 Patricio Albacete, 4 Yoann Maestri, 3 Census Johnston, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Gurthrö Steenkamp
Replacements: 16 Julien Marchand, 17 Cyril Baille, 18 Joe Tekoria, 19 Louis Picamoles, 20 Toby Flood, 21 Maxime Médard, 22 Florian Fritz, 23 Neemia Tialata

Bordeaux-Bègles: 15 Sofiane Guitoune, 14 Metuisela Talebula, 13 Felix le Bourhis, 12 Julien Rey, 11 Blair Connor, 10 Pierre Bernard, 9 Heini Adams, 8 Marco Tauleigne, 7 Hugh Chalmers, 6 Louis Madaule, 5 Berend Botha, 4 Jandre Marais, 3 Francisco Gomez Kodela, 2 Wayne Avei, 1 Jean-Batiste Poux.
Replacements: 16 Jefferson Poirot, 17 Clément Maynadier, 18 Adam Jaulhac, 19 Peter Saili, 20 Yann Lesgourgues, 21 Lionel Beauxis, 22 Thibault Lacroix, 23 Albert Toetu

Result last season: Toulouse won 18-16
Kick-off: 16:15 local (14:15 GMT)
Referee: Alexandre Ruiz