Battle resumes for Top 14 glory
December 28, 2009
Can Guy Noves' Toulouse side upset Perpignan in their latest Top 14 clash? © Getty Images
Toulouse 22 - 11 Perpignan Bayonne 19 - 23 Racing Metro Biarritz 23 - 6 Bourgoin-Jallieu Castres 30 - 7 Montauban Clermont Auvergne 52 - 10 Brive Toulon 41 - 13 Albi Montpellier 25 - 23 Stade FranÃ§ais
The Top 14 swings back into action this week with the next two rounds of fixtures in the battle for the Bouclier de Brennus.
Following back-to-back European clashes and a festive break, France's leading clubs return to domestic matters in the form of Rounds 16 and 17 in this season's title race - the first taking place on Wednesday night and the other following on Sunday.
Toulouse play host to Perpignan at the Stade Ernst Wallon in our Game of the Week under pressure to close the gap on the Catalans and leaders Castres at the top of the table.
Toulouse had mixed fortunes in their most recent clashes in the Heineken Cup - losing to Cardiff before getting their European campaign back on track with victory against the Blues the following weekend. Perpignan also suffered a setback to their European hopes with back-to-back defeats at the hands of Munster - with the Irish province hammering the hosts 37-14 at Stade Aime Giral.
Castres tackle Montauban at the Stade Pierre-Antoine on the back of successive Challenge Cup defeats to Premiership side Saracens while their opponents shared the spoils in their European encounters with Newcastle. Cameron McIntyre starts at fly-half for the league leaders with former England centre Phil Christophers shifting to outside-centre to accommodate Yohan Audrin.
Fellow high-fliers Racing Metro travel to Stade Jean Dauger to take on strugglers Bayonne. The Parisians return to domestic affairs following two thumping victories over Italian Super 10 side Rugby Roma while Bayonne were also win-less against Wasps. Bayonne coach Thierry Mentières has been stripped of the services of prop Pierre-Philippe Lafond for three months following back surgery and winger Benjamin Fall also misses out with a broken nose. Racing have been boosted by fly-half Jonathan Wisniewski's speedy return to fitness after suffering aback injury in the win at Biarritz earlier this month. He starts, with Springbok Francois Steyn outside him at centre.
Clermont Auvergne entertain Brive at the Stade Marcel Michelin with the visitors out to shock the fiery home crowd. Julien Malzieu starts on the wing for Clermont after signing a new deal, with the always reliable Brock James at fly-half. Toulon will also welcome back captain Joe van Niekerk for their clash with Albi at Stade Felix-Mayol after the flanker completed his recovery from a shoulder injury. He is joined in the side by injury doubt Sonny Bill Williams and England fly-half Jonny Wilkinson.
Stade Francais, awaiting an appeal against scrum-half Julien Dupuy's six month ban for eye-gouging, will resume their quest for the post-season with a trip to Montpellier where they will be keen to build on their latest European success against Ulster. But they are unlikely to get everything their way against a Montpellier side fresh from two big victories over Italian side Olympus Rugby.
Lionel Beauxis is partnered by Noel Oelschig in the absence of Dupuy, while England flanker James Haskell is joined in the back-row by Pierre Rabadan and Mauro Bergamasco. Francois Trinh-Duc starts at No.10 for the home side.
In the round's other game, Biarritz welcome Bourgoin to the Parc des Sports Aguilera. Recent England cap Ayoola Erinle is again named on the wing for Biarritz, who are out to break a long barren run in the league after back-to-back Heineken Cup victories over the Dragons.
"The loudest cheer at a rugby game, away from social media gimmicks, pumping music and pyrotechnics will always be for a try." Tom Hamilton on the Twickenham atmosphere
"The only thing that will stop this England team from becoming a great team is themselves. They need to ask themselves 'what can we be?'" The Phil Vickery column
The latest Monday Maul looks at the hectic final weekend, the Lions hangover, the superb Mike Brown and the 'selfie'
"At the crux of this England team is a lack of fear, they are not afraid to throw playbooks out of the window." Tom Hamilton reports from Twickenham