With the Aviva Premiership about to kick off, you would be forgiven for forgetting that rugby has been played in anger since the middle of August – and the farce that is the Top 14’s three-games-in-nine-days run ends on Sunday. After Wednesday’s try-fest, expectations are high, even if the battered and bruised players will be more grateful for the relative rest ahead.
Toulouse are on the road again after Wednesday’s victory over Racing on home soil. Their previous matches away from Ernest Wallon haven’t gone well for them, but this time they face the defensively frail Montpellier. After the Racing result, it’s hard to see Toulouse heading home with anything less than four points. An attacking bonus point is probably too much to hope for, however.
Another team yet to record an away win this season are defending Top 14 champions Castres Olympique. Maybe they will break that duck on Sunday against the league’s new boys Oyonnax. There probably won’t be much in it, but expect the visitors’ kicking scrum-half Rory Kockott to be the difference between the two sides.
Biarritz won’t be looking forward to welcoming Toulon to Parc des Sports d’Aguilera. This will be a bloodbath of terrible proportions. There really is nothing more to say.
Clermont face an altogether more difficult task, against Stade Francais at Stade Jean-Bouin. The Parisian side will be out to prove a point after losing to Castres at Pierre Antoine on Wednesday, but Vern Cotter’s side have too much all-round firepower – not to mention the fact that they’re coming into this game on the back of a confidence-boosting 55-0 victory.
Home advantage, however, is likely to count for something as Racing Metro entertain Perpignan at Yves Manoir. This match is likely to descend into a battle of the boot between Jonny Sexton and James Hook, and Sexton’s radar has started to work. He should be able to make up for the fact that the rest of the expensively assembled side has yet to gel properly. That will happen sooner rather than later… probably not this week, though.
Grenoble have always been tough to beat at home. They should face few problems against a Bordeaux side that – once the kicking threat of Pierre Barnard has been nullified – haven’t so far posed much of an attacking threat.
Brive, meanwhile, badly need a morale-boosting win. The odds are in their favour against a Bayonne side that almost proves conclusively Top 14 sides really don’t travel well.
Montpellier v Toulouse: Toulouse to win by 12
Brive v Bayonne: Brive to win by 5
Biarritz v Toulon: Toulon to win by 20
Grenoble v Bordeaux: Grenoble to win by 8
Oyonnax v Castres: Castres to win by 5
Racing Metro v Perpignan: Racing Metro to win by 9
Stade Francais v Clermont: Clermont to win by 10
By James Harrington (@blackmountained)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images