Perpignan must break away jinx at Clermont
March 4, 2010
Julien Bonnaire starts for Clermont © Getty Images
The Stade Marcel Michelin will host a re-run of last season's Top 14 final on Friday night as Clermont Auvergne look to secure vital points and revenge for a brace of defeats against Perpignan.
After heartbreak at the Stade de France last season Clermont also suffered a demoralising defeat to Perpignan at the Stade Aime Giral in September, failing to recover from the home side's powerful first-half onslaught.
With the teams tied on 61 points in second and third there is plenty to play for as the play-off race heats up. The top two sides at the end of the regular season will secure byes into the semi-finals and Clermont and Perpignan are currently fighting for a spot behind leaders Castres.
The home side had looked set to add the return of skipper Aurelien Rougerie to their rabid home support in the plusses column, but the wing misses out after a fitness test on the neck injury sustained in the opening moments of France's Six Nations meeting with Scotland.
With the Six Nations on a break Les Jaunards have called on their international contingent of lock Julien Pierre, prop Thomas Domingo, back-rower Julien Bonnaire, openside Alexandre Lapandry, and Julien Malzieu. Bonnaire, Lapandry and Malzieu start, with the rest among the replacements. Scrum-half Morgan Parra, a front-runner for player of the tournament in the Six Nations, is named on the bench.
Perpignan have been boosted significantly by the return of centre Maxime Mermoz from injury on the bench and have also been able to call on talismanic prop Nicolas Mas and centre David Marty from the French squad.
The main challenge awaiting the visiting side is arresting their dire away form , which has seen them slip to seven defeats on the road this season, including reversals again bottom-placed Albi, Montauban and Montpellier and a hammering against Brive.
Clermont Auvergne: Floch; Nalaga, Joubert, Williams, Malzieu; James, Senio; Debaty, Ledesma Arocena, Scelzo, Cudmore, Privat, Bonnaire, Lapandry, Vermeulen
Replacements: Cabello, Domingo, Audebert, Pierre, Parra, Lavea, Fofana, Zirakashvili
Perpignan: Burger; Michael, Marty, Grandclaude, Plante; Laharrague, Mélé; Schuster, Tincu, Mas, Olibeau, Vilaceca, Le Corvec, Chouly, Tonita
Replacements: Guirado, Chobet, Tchale Watchou, Tuilagi, Durand, Mermoz, Sid, Pulu
In the wake of another perfect November series, Monday Maul talks to NZRU CEO Steve Tew about the constant demand for perfection
The latest Week in Pictures takes in all the action from the weekend when rugby united behind Samoa
The Wallabies showed flair in Dublin, but they still have a way to go if they are to do more than make up the numbers at the World Cup, writes Greg Growden
England broke their losing streak, but this was not them clawing their way back among the best, writes Tom Hamilton