Top 14 Preview: Round Nine

Date published: November 27 2015

After a tricky European break the Top 14 returns this weekend with a couple of huge clashes at the top of the table.

Leaders Clermont host European champions Toulon, who will still be smarting from the thrashing they received at Wasps, while Racing 92 welcome Toulouse.

Elsewhere, there are big games in the context of survival when Oyonnax host surprise package Brive, with Agen also desperate for a win at home to Castres.

Finally, Bordeaux-Bègles welcome Pau to Chaban Delmas, before Sunday's clash in Grenoble where champions Stade Français are the visitors.


Montpellier v La Rochelle

Racing 92 v Toulouse
Oyonnax v Brive
Bordeaux-Bègles v Pau
Agen v Castres
Clermont v Toulon

Grenoble v Stade Français

Montpellier v La Rochelle
Altrad Stadium, Montpellier

It's been a busy week for Montpellier, who have been very active on the recruitment front. Nemani Nadolo and Joe Tomane could both be on their way, while club captain Fulgence Ouedraogo has signed a new deal at the club.

The loss of François Trinh-Duc is a huge blow though, and the club is almost unrecognisable from the one that reached the Top 14 final in 2011.

In the league their recent form has been a concern, even if the loss at Toulon came with a virtually second string side.

Trinh-Duc is out injured for two months though, so it will be up to Demetri Catrakilis to run the show at fly-half.

The remaining World Cup absentees should start filtering through soon, so Jake White will be keen to prove he can get this team competing with the title contenders.

That starts with a win over La Rochelle, who have some injury concerns in the backline, with young winger Gabriel Lacroix one of those currently out injured.

Currently ninth in the league, they still look like they will be involved in a relegation battle this year, but a repeat of last year's draw at the Altrad Stadium would be a fine result.

Montpellier: 15 Benjamin Fall, 14 Julien Malzieu, 13 Anthony Tuitavake, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Jesse Mogg, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Benoit Paillaugue, 8 Akapusi Qera, 7 Ben Mowen, 6 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 5 Paul Willemse, 4 Willem du Plessis, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Mickael Ivaldi, 1 Mikheil Nariashvili. 
Replacements: 16 Charles Geli, 17 Christoffel van der Linde, 18 Robins Tchale Watchou, 19 Kelian Galletier, 20 Nicholas White, 21 Ben Lucas, 22 Timoci Nagusa, 23 Pat Cilliers.

La Rochelle: 15 Kini Murimurivalu, 14 Charles Bouldoire, 13 Malietoa Hingano, 12 Levani Botia, 11 Alexander Northam, 10 Zack Holmes, 9 Enrico Januarie, 8 Kevin Gourdon, 7 Afaesetiti Amosa, 6 Jason Eaton, 5 Leandro Cedaro, 4 Romana Graham, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Maxime Gau, 1 Vincent Pelo.
Replacements: 16 Benjamin Geledan, 17 Mike Corbel, 18 Jone Qovu, 19 Zeno Kieft, 20 Jules Le bail, 21 Fabien Fortassin, 22 Eliott Roudil, 23 Gagi Bazadze.

Last year's result: The teams drew 15-15
Kick-off: 20:45 local (19:45 GMT)
Referee: Romain Poite

Racing 92 v Toulouse
Stade Yves du Manoir, Colombes

The biggest star of all arrived in Paris to be presented to the fans and the press but Dan Carter will only be a spectator for this mouthwatering clash.

Racing were dominant in their sole European game, a convincing 29-12 win at Scarlets which might have been even more one-sided if not for Bernard Le Roux's harsh red card at the start of the second half.

Toulouse, on the other hand, look a little out of sorts. It was understandable the day after the terror attacks when they were torn to shreds by Saracens, but the laboured win over Oyonnax last weekend was also a concern.

The absence of Sébastien Bézy and Toby Flood in that game seemed to really hurt them, and those two are probably the two most important players in the team at the moment.

Having said that, Gaël Fickou is coming into form at just the right time and will surely be starting for France in the Six Nations if he keeps it up.

Their record at Racing isn't great however, and the Parisians are still unbeaten on home soil this season.

Racing: 15 Johan Goosen, 14 Joe Rokocoko, 13 Henry Chavancy, 12 Alexandre Dumoulin, 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Remi Tales, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Chris Masoe, 7 Yannick Nyanga, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Francois Van der Merwe, 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Benajmin Tameifuna, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Eddy Ben Arous. 
Replacements: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Julien Brugnaut, 18 Manuel Carizza, 19 Antonie Claassen, 20 Mike Phillips, 21 Casey Laulala, 22 Brice Dulin, 23 Cedate Gomes Sa.

Toulouse: 15 Maxime Medard, 14 Vincent Clerc, 13 Florian Fritz, 12Yann David, 11 Timoci Matanavou, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Jean Marc Doussain, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Talalelei Gray, 6 Yacouba Camara, 5 Iosefa Tekori, 4 Yoann Maestri, 3 Nemiah Tialata, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Vasil Kakovin. 
Replacements: 16 Julien Marchand, 17 Cyril Baille, 18 Edwin Maka, 19 Gregory Lamboley, 20 Sebastien Bezy, 21 Luke Mcalister, 22 Arthur Bonneval, 23 Census Johnston.

Last year's result: Racing won 27-16
Kick-off: 14:45 local (13:45 GMT)
Referee: Cyril Lafon

Oyonnax v Brive
Stade Charles Mathon, Oyonnax

A play-off team after eight rounds of matches and still in touch in the Challenge Cup, it's been a great start to the season for Brive.

While no one expects them to stay in the hunt until the end of the season, they are looking very good right now, and a trip to Oyonnax is not the daunting task it was last year.

Granted, Oyo looked better last week against Toulouse, but they have had a tough start to the season, with Olivier Azam removed from his position as head coach earlier this month.

It remains to be seen whether that will make a difference, but they will have it all to do against Brive and their powerful pack.

Having said that, the artificial pitch should help Oyonnax, who play a slightly more expansive game than their opponents on the day.

And with bottom side Agen also at home, Oyo know they need a win or they could risk finishing the day bottom of the table.

Oyonnax: 15 Florian Denos, 14 Silvere Tian, 13 Vincent Martin, 12 Eamonn Sheridan, 11 Fetuumoana Vainikolo, 10 Nick Robinson, 9 Fabien Cibray, 8 Viliami Maafu, 7 Pedrie Wannenburg, 6 Pierrick Gunther, 5 Fabrice Metz, 4 Leon william Power, 3 Antoine Guillamon, 2 Jody Jenneker, 1 Laurent Delboulbes. 
Replacements: 16 Jeremie Maurouard, 17 Soane Tonga'uiha, 18 George Robson, 19 Guillaume Bernad, 20 Patrick Sobela, 21 Julien Blanc, 22 Regis Lespinas, 23 Marc Clerc.

Brive: 15 Gaetan Germain, 14 Benjamin Petre, 13 Arnaud Mignardi, 12 Christopher Tuatara, 11 Sevanaia Galala, 10 Matthieu Ugalde, 9 Teddy Iribaren, 8 Petrus Hauman, 7 Poutasi Luafutu, 6 Said Hireche, 5 Peet Marais, 4 Johan Snyman, 3 Kevin Buys, 2 Thomas Acquier, 1 Lucas Pointud. 
Replacements: 16 Guillaume Ribes, 17 Karlen Asieshvili, 18 Wilhem Steenkamp, 19 Victor Lebas, 20 Fabien Sanconnie, 21 Jean baptiste Pejoine, 22 Nicolas Bezy, 23 Giorgi Jgenti.

Last year's result: 24-3
Kick-off: 18:30 local (17:30 GMT)
Referee: Cedric Marchat

Bordeaux-Bègles v Pau
Stade Chaban Delmas, Bordeaux

A humbling loss at Exeter showed that this season still hasn't really got going for Bordeaux despite some good results along the way.

Last season only Toulon scored more points than Raphaël Ibanez's men, but this year they have really struggled for points.

Pau are one of just two teams to have scored fewer, but neither team has been outstanding in defence so there could still be points in this one.

The worry for Bordeaux is how they've failed to adapt since losing backs coach Vincent Etcheto, although the recent performance of Lionel Beauxis at Exeter didn't help.

They look a more dangerous team with Romain Lonca at ten, but the cohesion we were used to isn't there right now.

They will see a game against Pau at home as a chance to rectify that, with All Black duo Conrad Smith and Colin Slade not yet ready for their debuts.

Bordeaux-Bègles: 15 Nans Ducuing, 14 Metuisela Talebula, 13 Sofiane Guitoune, 12 Julien Rey, 11 Blair Connor, 10 Baptiste Serin, 9 Yann Lesgourgues, 8 Marco Tauleigne, 7 Hugh Chalmers, 6 Louis benoit Madaule, 5 Jandre Marais, 4 Julien Ledevedec, 3 Francisco Gomez Kodela, 2 Wayne Avei, 1 Sebastien Taofifenua. 
Replacements: 16 Ronan Chambord, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Berend Botha, 19 Loann Goujon, 20 Romain Lonca, 21 Felix Le Bourhis, 22 Jean Marcellin Buttin, 23 Jean Batiste Poux.


Pau: 15 Damien Traille, 14 Sereli Bobo, 13 Jale kaikadavu Vatubua, 12 Santiago Fernandez, 11 Mosese Ratuvou, 10 Brandon Fajardo, 9 Thibault Daubagna, 8 James Coughlan, 7 Patrick Butler, 6 Loic Bernad, 5 Claude Dry, 4 Julien Pierre, 3 Sylvain Charlet, 2 Thomas Bianchin, 1 Jeremy Hurou. 
Replacements: 16 Vincent Campo Castillo, 17 Chris King, 18 Daniel Mark Ramsay, 19 Josefa Domolailai, 20 Samuel Marques, 21 Julien Fumat, 22 Watisoni Votu, 23 Giorgi Natsarashvili.

Previous result: Bordeaux won 18-14 in 2011 in Pro D2
Kick-off: 18:30 local (17:30 GMT)
Referee: Maxime Chalon

Agen v Castres
Stade Armandie, Agen

Agen have played well without necessarily getting the reward in the table for their performances this season so a home game against Castres is huge for them.

Currently bottom of the table, a loss would likely see a gap open up between them and the rest of the league, and it would be hard to see the league's smallest budget recovering from that.

Their lack of strength in depth was apparent in the two Challenge Cup defeats over the last fortnight, but that will be forgotten if they can see off Castres.

Christophe Urios' side have not performed as they would have liked but were convincing winners in their last league game as they hammered a weakened Racing team.

This should be a different challenge entirely, and they were dealt a real blow when in-form winger Rémy Grosso was ruled out for three months through injury.

That should also see him miss the start of the Six Nations, a real shame in a position where places are up for grabs.

Agen: 15 Mathieu Lamoulie, 14 Tamaz Mchedlidze, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Lionel Mazars, 11 George Tilsley, 10 Burton Francis, 9 Alexi Bales, 8 Marc Giraud, 7 Antoine Erbani, 6 Luke John Hamilton, 5 William Demotte, 4 Corentin Braendlin, 3 David Ryan, 2 Mike Tadjer, 1 Viliamu Afatia. 
Replacements: 16 Jalil Narjissi, 17 Bernard N nomo, 18 Jean Baptiste Roidot, 19 Sione Tau, 20 Clement Darbo, 21 Julien Heriteau, 22 Ilaitia lekaiwala Tagotago, 23 Ruaan Du Preez.

Castres: 15 Geoffrey Palis, 14 Julien Caminati, 13 Thomas Combezou, 12 Remi Lamerat, 11 David Smith, 10 Daniel Kirkpatrick, 9 Rory Kockott, 8 Alex Tulou, 7 Alexandre Bias, 6 Yannick Caballero, 5 Rodrigo Capo Ortega, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Yohan Montes, 2 Brice Mach, 1 Mihaita Lazar. 
Replacements: 16 Marc Antoine Rallier, 17 Saimone Taumoepeau, 18 Christophe Samson, 19 Piula Faasalele, 20 Antoine Dupont, 21 Julien Dumora, 22 John Beattie, 23 Karena Wihongi.

Previous result: Castres won 22-14 in 2012
Kick-off: 18:30 local (17:30 GMT)
Referee: Jérôme Garcès

Clermont v Toulon
Stade Marcel Michelin, Clermont

Arguably the biggest game in French rugby these days, the two teams struggle to hide their animosity for one another off the pitch.

Last year Toulon almost pulled off a huge upset when they travelled to Marcel Michelin with a largely second string team and pushed Clermont to their limits.

This year is different though, with Toulon having really struggled on the road.

Losses to Grenoble, Brive and Castres were all disappointing, but none were as bad as the hammering received at Wasps last time out.

That sparked anger from Mourad Boudjellal, and it seems Quade Cooper is one of those to have paid the price.

While he'll keep his spot this season, it seems unlikely he'll remain for a second year, and his replacement was confirmed on Thursday in the shape of François Trinh-Duc.

As for this weekend, well Clermont weren't entirely convincing against the Ospreys, even if they were never really in danger of losing.

Brock James made a real impact when he came on, and coach Franck Azéma has defended Noa Nakaitaci for his mistake that led to an Eli Walker try.

The Fijian-born Frenchman has come under fire a lot in recent weeks, and Azéma believes he's getting a raw deal from the media.

This weekend might be the chance to put that right.

Clermont: 15 Scott Spedding, 14 David Strettle, 13 Aurelien Rougerie, 12 Albert Vulivuli, 11 Adrien Plante, 10 Brock James, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Damien Chouly, 7 Alexandre Lapandry, 6 Camille Gerondeau, 5 Flip van der Merwe, 4 Jamie Cudmore, 3 Davit Zirakashvili, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Raphael Chaume. 
Replacements: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Thomas Domingo, 18 Paul Jedrasiak, 19 Julien Bardy, 20 Ludovic Radosavljevic, 21 Nick Abendanon, 22 Noa Nakaitaci, 23 Clement Ric.

Toulon: 15 Delon Armitage, 14 Josua Tuisova, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 Eric Escande, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, 6 Mamuka Gorgodze, 5 Konstantine Mikautadze, 4 Samuela Manoa, 3 Levan Chilachava, 2 Anthony Etrillard, 1 Florian Fresia. 
Replacements: 16 Bastien Soury, 17 Xavier Chiocci, 18 Romain Taofifenua, 19 Jocelino Suta, 20 Steffon Armitage, 21 James  O Connor, 22 Anthony Meric, 23 Matthew Stevens.

Last year's result: Clermont won 22-19
Kick-off: 20:45 local (19:45 GMT)
Referee: Mathieu Raynal

Grenoble v Stade Français
Stade des Alpes, Grenoble

A win in their last league game at home to Clermont relieved some of the pressure on Stade Français, but still they find themselves way off the pace in the race for a play-off spot.

That's why Pascal Papé this week talked about their game in Grenoble as the chance to pick up a major scalp on the road.

It won't come easy though, Grenoble have lost just once on home soil this season, and come into the game on the back of a morale-boosting European win over London Irish.

Stade have a number of their World Cup stars back though, and will be desperate for a win after a week off due to the postponement of their clash with Munster.

It remains to be seen how they were affected by the Paris terror attacks. Hooker Rémi Bonfils was lucky to escape a shooting in a café while former player Aristide Barraud is recovering in hospital after being shot.

The club has rallied around Barraud and will no doubt want to put in a performance for him this weekend.

Grenoble: tbc

Stade Français: tbc

Last year's result: Stade Français won 43-30
Kick-off: 16:15 local (15:15 GMT)
Referee: Pascal Gauzère