Clermont and Toulouse look to bite back
October 1, 2009
Sergio Parisse is set to return to action for Stade Francais © Getty Images
Reigning champions Perpignan head in to round nine of the Top 14 at the top of the pile and they will be keen to stay there as the league prepares for a three-week rest period. Standing in their way are in-form Biarritz, with the tough away showdown our Game of the Week.
The round kicks off on Friday with Stade Francais hosting Brive at the Stade Jean-Bouin. Stade go in to the game off the back of a dour 9-9 draw with perennial rivals Toulouse, while Brive found some much-needed wind for their sails by seeing off Castres 11-9 last Friday.
That game saw the return of England fly-half Andy Goode from injury and the visitors will likely call on former Stade fullback Nicolas Jeanjean after beating Guinness Premiership side Leicester Tigers to his signature.
Stade's season has been dealt a blow with the news of long-term injuries to both centre Brian Liebenberg and prop Pedro Ledesma, but they are boosted this week as No.8 Sergio Parisse returns for the first time this season after serving a ban for making contact with the eyes of New Zealand lock Isaac Ross.
Castres, playing their second game in four days after defeating Albi in midweek, host Toulon on Saturday. Jonny Wilkinson's Toulon have slipped off the pace since defeating Toulouse in Marseille and were thumped 23-9 by Biarritz last weekend. Wilkinson started on the bench at the Parc des Sports Aguilera, with Sebatien Fauque wearing No.10, and will likely be restored along with centre Jamie Robinson.
Clermont Auvergne allowed Perpignan to steal a march at the top of the table with a 19-3 loss to the champions last round. They face Bayonne at the Stade Marcel-Michelin on Saturday and will be without lock Jamie Cudmore after he saw red following a fight last weekend. Bayonne suffered a humbling 19-14 defeat to Albi last Friday and now reside in 10th place.
Toulouse have the perfect opportunity to end their worrying try-drought away to Montpellier with their opponents currently languishing in 13th place. Last season's beaten finalists again failed to cross the whitewash last weekend and were reliant on the boots of Frederic Michalak and Jean-Baptiste Elissalde for their points against Stade.
The home side have been dealt a blow with the news that French international back-row Fulgence Ouedraogo is out with injury, although Georgian lock Mamuka Gorgodze does return to the squad.
The round concludes with four teams looking to get some much needed points on the board. Racing-Metro saw off Montpellier last weekend and also introduced new Springbok signing Frans Steyn to the Top 14 and face fellow strugglers Montauban this Saturday.
Montauban lost out to Bourgoin, who will be out to continue their admirable season despite their dire financial situation when hosting bottom-placed Albi. The newly-promoted side will be confident however after their first win last weekend and a battling display in a narrow defeat to third-placed Castres in midweek.
The Scotland coach enters his first Six Nations with at least one familiar face to look to for inspiration - Joe Schmidt. He chats to Tom Hamilton
Italy coach Jacques Brunel spoke to ESPN ahead of his final season as Italy coach and tells of his desire to experiment and evolve
"There's no bull with me, I just tell it straight." Tom Hamilton talks to Warren Gatland in an exclusive interview
With the retirement of Adam Jones, Welsh rugby says goodbye to a great player and one of its biggest personalities too, writes Tom Hamilton