Race for play-offs hots up
February 18, 2010
Marius Joubert will ba back in Clermont colours this weekend after a year plagued by injury © Getty Images
France are riding high in the Six Nations after their crushing victory over Ireland, but the focus shifts back to domestic matters this weekend as the latest round of the Top 14 looms into view.
Leaders Perpignan will be hoping to cement their position but will need to combat their shaky away form as they take on Montauban at the Stade de Sapiac. The Catalans come into the clash on the back of a three game unbeaten run while Montauban are languishing at the wrong end of the table having tasted defeat in six of their last eight games. Injury will deprive Perpignan of centre Maxime Mermoz while David Marty will also be missing with France with prop Nicolas Mas also remaining within the international set-up.
Second-placed Castres face a testing away trip to face Racing Metro at the Stade Olympique Yves du Manoir on Saturday in our Game of the Week.
Clermont Auvergne have the ideal opportunity to banish memories of their defeat to Racing when they host bottom-placed Albi at the Stade Marcel Michelin. Les Jaunards welcome back Springbok centre Marius Joubert from a long-term injury but will be without French internationals Thomas Domingo, Julien Pierre, Julien Bonnaire, Morgan Parra and Julien Malzieu. Albi have registered just three league victories this season and are unlikely to add to that number as Clermont look to get their title challenge back on track.
Toulouse will also want to keep the pressure on those above them as they welcome Toulon to the Stade Ernest Wallon, although coach Guy Noves has been an unhappy man in the build-up. France's refusal to release prop Jean-Baptiste Poux has angered Noves, who counts Jean-Baptiste Elissalde, Louis Picamoles and Yann David among his injured list. He is also without the services of the international class of William Servat, Thierry Dusautoir, Frederic Michalak, Yannick Jauzion, Vincent Clerc and Clement Poitrenaud who are also remaining with the national side.
Toulon will also be without some big names in the form of England fly-half Jonny Wilkinson and Scotland's Rory Lamont who is set for a lengthy spell on the sidelines having suffered a knee ligament injury in the Six Nations loss to Wales last weekend. Toulouse suffered a rare home defeat at the hands of Clermont Auvergne last time out and Toulon will travel in the hope of inflicting another.
Biarritz are also struggling in the injury stakes, with Paul Couet-Lannes ruled out for the remainder of the season. Prop Fabien Barcella, centre Damien Traille and scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili are also missing due to injury for their home tie with Brive at the Parc des Sports Aguilera. Brive will be without England internationals Riki Flutey and Steve Thompson while fly-half Andy Goode has been released on loan to Super 14 side the Sharks. France's Alexis Palisson will also be missing through injury but Fabrice Estebanez has been released to play.
Stade Francais are off the pace but have a chance to press on if they can pick up the points away to struggling Bourgoin but the pressure is mounting with the Parisians yet to notch an away win this season. Their cause is not helped by the absence of international contingent of Sylvain Marconnet, Dimitri Szarzewski, Pascal Papé and Mathieu Bastareaud while they are also without Julien Dupuy and David Attoub through suspension and Sergio Parisse due to injury.
Two teams at the wrong end of the table, Montpellier and Bayonne, face-off at the Stade Yves du Manoir. Montpellier have sprung a few surprises so far this season but without international duo Francois Trinh-Duc and Fulgence Ouedraogo they may struggle to conjure another. In contrast, Bayonne can call on the services of Italy fly-half Craig Gower and Azzurri team-mate Salvatore Perugini.
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