Top 14 Preview: Round Five

Date published: September 21 2018

Saturday’s late game in the Top 14 sees Racing 92 host defending champions Castres in what should be a thriller at the Paris La Defense Arena.

Elsewhere, Lyon head to La Rochelle looking for their third victory of the campaign while Stade Francais will attempt to continue their fine form when visiting Pau.

At the other end of the table, the newly-promoted sides go head-to-head as Grenoble face Perpignan. Neither have won a game since regaining their places in France’s top-tier but, unless it’s a draw, one of them will break their duck.

Saturday
Bordeaux-Bègles vs Clermont Auvergne
Grenoble vs Perpignan
La Rochelle vs Lyon
Toulon vs Agen
Racing 92 vs Castres

Sunday
Pau vs Stade Francais
Montpellier vs Toulouse

Bordeaux-Bègles vs Clermont Auvergne
Stade Chaban-Delmas

Two teams who are enduring contrasting starts to the season, despite only being separated by once place in the 2017/18 standings, meet in the early game.

UBB have ambitions to break into the top-six and become one of the bigger powers in Europe, but they have struggled so far in 2018/19. Rory Teague’s men started well enough, thrashing Pau 41-19, but they have not tasted success since and were embarrassed 22-17 by Agen in Round Four.

Their opponents on Saturday, however, have been outstanding, winning all of their games. Clermont were dominant victors in the opening three weeks and, although they were tested by Pau, Les Jaunards edged the contest 27-23.

You would think that Auvergne are due a loss at some point but confidence is high, while Bordeaux have been lacklustre recently.

Last season’s result: Bordeaux won 32-25
Kick-off: 14:45 local (13:45 BST, 12:45 GMT)
Referee: Pascal Gauzere
Assistant referees: Pierre Brousset, Frederic Chazal
TMO: Bruno Bessot

Grenoble vs Perpignan
Stade des Alpes

It may only be five weeks into the season but this could already be one of the biggest games of the campaign if either of these sides are to stave off relegation.

After both were promoted from Pro D2, neither have yet won a game in France’s top-tier. In particular, Grenoble have come close and, as a result, should be favourites going into this encounter, but their record was poor against Perpignan last season.

The Catalans emerged triumphant in all three matches between the teams, including the play-off final where they were comfortable 38-13 victors, and they will be hoping for a similar outcome at the Stade des Alpes.

Last season’s result: Perpignan won 24-17
Kick-off: 18:00 local (17:00 BST, 16:00 GMT)
Referee: Jerome Garces
Assistant referees: Adrien Descottes, Thierry Guilloton
TMO: Eric Gonthier

La Rochelle vs Lyon
Stade Marcel-Deflandre

Despite an ultimately comfortable victory over Perpignan last week, La Rochelle have yet to find the form which made them such a formidable proposition under Patrice Collazo.

In contrast, Pierre Mignoni has done a fine job in turning Lyon into one of the most feared teams in France and their remarkable victory over Montpellier demonstrated the work he has done.

They thrashed the 2018 Top 14 runners up 55-13, which secured their second victory of the campaign and moved them up to fifth, just two points behind second placed Stade Francais.

Irrespective of the hosts’ current frustrations, it should be a tight game, but you suspect that Mignoni’s charges will be the more confident outfit heading into the contest.

Last season’s result: La Rochelle won 19-15
Kick-off: 18:00 local (17:00 BST, 16:00 GMT)
Referee: Jerome Garces
Assistant referees: Luc Ramos, Bruno Gabaldon
TMO: Eric Gauzins

Toulon vs Agen
Stade Mayol

It has been a pretty dreadful opening to the season for Toulon but they should have far too much quality for Agen at the Stade Mayol.

The focus for Philippe Sella’s men has very much been on their home form and it has paid off so far after securing victories over Perpignan and Bordeaux, but they have been dreadful on the road.

Expect the same here. Although Patrice Collazo has endured an inauspicious start in the head coach’s role, this may be the ideal tonic. If they don’t get a comfortable win against a team that is expected to struggle then the pressure will ramp up from owner Mourad Boudjellal.

Last season’s result: Toulon won 54-5
Kick-off: 18:00 local (17:00 BST, 16:00 GMT)
Referee: Vincent Blasco-Baque
Assistant referees: Julien Castaignede, Jacques De Lemos
TMO: Cedric Marchat

Racing 92 vs Castres
Paris La Defense Arena

On paper, it has been a difficult start to the campaign for Castres, but they have handled it superbly and another victory here would set them up nicely.

After overturning Montpellier and Lyon, Christophe Urios’ men then visited Toulon, only to succumb by one point. A comfortable victory over strugglers Grenoble got them back on track and they head to Paris in confident mood.

Saturday’s hosts, Racing, have shown glimpses of their capabilities in 2018/19, winning in the Stade Mayol and thrashing Agen, but their heavy home defeat to Clermont Auvergne would have concerned the supporters.

It should be a thriller and a close contest between two sides who have realistic title ambitions, but Castres do rather enjoy upsetting the apple cart.

Last season’s result: Racing won 25-21
Kick-off: 20:45 local (19:45 BST, 18:45 GMT)
Referee: Maxime Chalon
Assistant referees: Jonathan Dufort, Jean-Claude Labarbe
TMO: Akim Hadj-Bachir

Pau vs Stade Francais
Stade du Hameau

Stade Francais head to Pau in Sunday’s early game buoyed by a fine start to the season following three victories in the opening four matches.

Included in those wins was an excellent triumph over Toulon, while their only defeat came at pacesetters Clermont Auvergne.

Simon Mannix’s men have also faced Les Jaunards and they provided the leaders’ sternest test by coming within four minutes of overturning Clermont, but the 2017 Top 14 champions edged them out.

Pau’s performance last weekend showed that they should be battling for the top-six once again this season and they will fancy their chances of overturning the Parisians.

Last season’s result: Stade won 25-23
Kick-off: 12:30 local (11:30 BST, 10:30 GMT)
Referee: Ludovic Cayre
Assistant referees: Laurent Cardona, Jean-Luc Rebollal
TMO: Philippe Bonhoure

Montpellier vs Toulouse
GGL Stadium

The final match of Round Five sees two of last season’s top-four go head-to-head. After a difficult start for Montpellier, where they lost at home to Castres and were thrashed by Lyon, the 2018 runners up will be looking to kick-start their campaign.

Despite beating La Rochelle and gaining a creditable draw at Bordeaux, Vern Cotter’s men have struggled for form and their match with Toulouse will be another difficult test.

It will also be Les Rouge et Noir’s toughest game so far, with them currently unbeaten after three victories and a draw. Ugo Mola’s charges have generally battled for their results rather than swept all before them, but edging out victories is a crucial skill to have.

Montpellier should ultimately have too much for the visitors at home, although the absence of Aaron Cruden will hamper them.

Last season’s result: Montpellier won 32-22
Kick-off: 16:50 local (15:50 BST, 14:50 GMT)
Referee: Alexandre Ruiz
Assistant referees: Cyril Lafon, Richard Duhau
TMO: Mourad Zitouni