Stade aim to break clear at the top
March 13, 2009
Veteran scrum-half Agustin Pichot starts on the bench for Stade Francais this weekend © Getty Images
Montpellier 12 - 9 Biarritz Bayonne 14 - 9 Dax Clermont Auvergne 57 - 23 Bourgoin-Jallieu Toulon 29 - 32 Perpignan Toulouse 26 - 11 Castres Montauban 22 - 16 Stade Français
The Top 14 swings back into action this weekend with the tournament's pace-setters looking to consolidate their play-off spots and those towards the bottom looking anxiously over their shoulders.
Stade Francais kick off the weekend's action with a trip to face Monatuban. Stade will be in rampant mood after a big win over Bourgoin last time out and will be looking to gain ground on Toulouse despite being shorn of their internationals. There is an interesting side-note to the game with Agustin Pichot set to make his return to top-flight action. The former Pumas skipper starts on the bench as back-up to Noel Oelschig, with Lionel Beauxis at fly-half. [Teams]
Toulouse will be looking to arrest their slump in form with a win over local rivals Castres. The reigning champions currently possess a one point lead at the top of the table but have struggled without their international contingent. Losses to Biarritz and Perpignan have dented their charge and with seven players in the France squad they still look lightweight in certain departments. They will be buoyed by the return of Fabien Pelous and David Skrela however.
With Toulon apparently on an upward curve it will be up to Perpignan to dictate affairs at the Stade Felix Mayol this weekend. Following their huge win over Toulouse last weekend Perpignan will be confident of success despite worries over scrum-half Nicolas Durand. Toulon have been boosted by the return of Tana Umaga to the squad, but the former All Black skipper is not certain to play.
Clermont Auvergne face a must-win game against Bourgoin after their loss to Biarritz last weekend. Brive are breathing down their necks in fifth place but Clermont will fancy their chances against a demoralised Bourgoin. Napolioni Nalaga has returned from representing Fiji at the Rugby World Cup Sevens and will be looking to terrorise the Bourgoin defence.
Clermont will have to be on their game as Brive face an eminently winnable trip to face bottom-placed Mont-de-Marsan at the Stade Guy-Boniface this weekend. Brive are unbeaten in five, while Mont-de-Marsan are looking ever more likely to be dropping out of the top flight at the end of the season.
Dax may well be joining them after failing to win in their last seven outings, and they will be going all out to defeat Bayonne away this weekend. Dax still have to face Perpignan and have some wretched away form, so a win this weekend could be a good way to start a fightback.
Biarritz, one of the form sides in the whole Top 14, travel to face Montpellier this weekend. With a dogged Biarritz side slowly clawing themselves out of trouble with massive wins over Toulouse and Clermont Montpellier will do well to halt their confident charge. For Biarritz, Julien Peyrelongue fills in for Damien Traille in the centre, with Valentin Courrent starting at fly-half.
Martin Gillingham looks ahead to what he believes is the most remarkable ever climax to the league phase of the Top 14
With just two rounds left in the regular season, we look at the prospects of the teams taking part in the Championship play-offs
Joe Simpson talks to Charlie Morgan about loss, Wasps and being England's game-breaker
It is 100 years this week since the last international match played in Europe before the outbreak of World War One. Rewind remembers the fixture's longest-living survivor