Top four face off in France
April 13, 2010
Biarritz's Jean-Baptiste Gobelet salutes the fans in San Sebastian after last weekend's win over Ospreys © Getty Images
Racing Metro 29 - 22 Biarritz Toulon 33 - 23 Perpignan Albi 38 - 24 Stade FranÃ§ais Bayonne 33 - 25 Brive Bourgoin-Jallieu 15 - 13 Toulouse Montauban 6 - 19 Montpellier Clermont Auvergne 25 - 19 Castres
After a weekend of contrasting emotions for French clubs in European competition, attention shifts back to domestic matters for a round of Top 14 action which has thrown up two mouth-watering match-ups.
Clermont Auvergne will doubtless still be trying to work out just how they managed to end up on the wrong end of a 29-28 scoreline in an epic Heineken Cup quarter-final clash with Leinster last Friday week but, with the side directly above them in the table, Castres, due in town on Friday night, Vern Cotter's men must somehow put the agony of Dublin out of their minds. It is probably the ideal game for them to do just that given that they are just two points off not only Castres but also second-placed Toulon, who host leaders Perpignan on Saturday.
It could be argued that Perpignan are at an immediate advantage given that they had last weekend off, having bowed out of the Heineken Cup at the pool stages, but there is a lot to be said for momentum and Toulon come into this top-of-the-table clash on the back of an impressive European Challenge Cup quarter-final success over the Scarlets.
Certainly, Toulouse will be hoping to pick up where they left off last weekend when they travel to the Stade de Gerland to take on Bourgoin. Guy Noves' men booked their place in the last four of the Heineken Cup by blowing Stade Francais away with a glorious exhibition of free-flowing rugby at Le Stade Municipal on Sunday and rather ominously for the rivals, both domestic and European, Toulouse appear to be hitting form at precisely the right time of the season. With the top four all squaring off this weekend, they also know that a win over Bourgoin could easily push them right into contention for a top-two finish. Toulouse are unlikely to have it all their own way, though, as Bourgoin are equally desperate for the win given that they are just two points above the drop zone.
The relegation battle is, in fact, proving just as enthralling as the jostling for position at the top end of the table. While Albi's demotion has already been confirmed, there are four other sides, including the aforementioned Bourgoin, fighting to avoid the drop.
As things stand, Bayonne are currently on their way down but they at least have a game this weekend. Unfortunately for them, it is against Brive, who must win to keep their hopes of a top-six finish alive. Montauban and Montpellier, meanwhile, are two and four points above Bayonne respectively, and they will square off in a fascinating relegation battle at the Stade de Sapiac.
Elsewhere, Stade Francais will be confident of putting the trauma of Toulouse behind them when they travel to basement boys Albi. Although, in saying that, a home win would hardly be that surprising - it has been that kind of season for the beleaguered Parisians.
The weekend rounds off with an intriguing clash between Racing Metro and Biarritz in Colombes which will have a major bearing on who claims the sixth and final place in the play-offs. Racing are currently in the box seat but Biarritz will arrive at the Stade Olympique Yves-du-Manoir on a high after their stirring victory over the Ospreys in San Sebastian last weekend. Just like Toulon and Toulouse, they too will be hoping that momentum will prove the dominant theme of the weekend.
Toulon's Heineken Cup final victory over Clermont Auvergne may have ended a long title drought for the Top 14 club but two of their players are no strangers to success
We bring you our pick of the best pictures from around the world in the last seven days with the battle for Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup glory taking centre stage
"If you listen carefully you should be able to hear them mining the granite for the statue of a certain Jonny Wilkinson" Graham Jenkins reports from the Heineken Cup Final
Quade Cooper's defence is better than it was 12 months ago and Robbie Deans has erred in omitting him from the core Wallabies squad to play the Lions, Greg Growden writes