Wednesday marks the second part of a tough three-matches-in-nine-days fixture bottleneck in France’s Top 14.
It features a potentially season-defining game for Guy Noves’ Toulouse against Racing Metro, and a difficult trip to Castres’ fortress Pierre Antoine for current league leaders Stade Francais.
Toulouse had a great chance to end Clermont’s 60-match winning streak at Stade Marcel Michelin on Saturday, but Guy Noves decided instead to rest several key players – including Luke McAlister and Thierry Dusautoir – in the hope of getting as many of his squad as he can through this congested section of the season relatively unscathed.
It’s a gamble, as Toulouse face a tough run up to the start of the Heineken Cup in October, and a third defeat in four games would leave Noves’ side in deep trouble early on in this campaign. That said, the expensively assembled new-look Racing Metro have not altogether impressed so far this season either, so this is a tough one to call. Any SuperBru players out there would probably be best advised to go for a home win, but it will be close. Just a couple of points.
A rejuvenated Stade Francais find themselves somewhere they haven’t been for several seasons – at the top of the table. But they face a tough test of their credentials with a trip to Castres. The hosts have trounced their opponents in this fixture in recent seasons, but this one looks like it will go to the wire – although a home win is still most likely.
One match that probably won’t go to the wire is Clermont v Bayonne. The term ‘Fortress’ was probably invented for Stade Marcel Michelin, where les jaune et bleu won their 61st game in a row on Saturday against Toulouse. Expect them to make it 62 on Wednesday, and by a considerable margin.
Biarritz – the last side to win at Marcel Michelin, trivia fans – are at Oyonnax, who are acquitting themselves well in their debut Top 14 season. Tough one to call, this. Oyonnax are showing promise, but are still getting to grips with life in the top flight, while the Basque side are a shadow of their former selves. Home advantage will probably count for something, so expect a home win, but chances are there will only be a try in it.
Fabien Galthie’s Montpellier have to come up with a way – any way – of fixing their defensive problems. They leaked 21 points in the final quarter against Brive on Saturday. It was just fortunate for them that they had already scored 33. Stronger sides than Brive will punish them for such defensive frailties. Fortunately, they face Bordeaux on Wednesday, whose only real attacking threat comes from the boot of Pierre Barnard. The home side should win easily, as long as they don’t hit the self-destruct button.
Expect a straightforward win for Toulon against Brive at Stade Mayol. The only question, really, is by how much as the hosts look to set the record straight following their shock defeat at Grenoble last time out.
Speaking of Grenoble… Their win over Toulon on Saturday will stand them in good stead against a Perpignan side that lost at Bayonne. This will be another close one, but James Hook’s boot may prove the difference between the two teams, especially at home. But if the Isere get the bit between their teeth, it could be a different matter.
By James Harrington (@blackmountained)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images