Earlier this week, Grenoble’s Fabrice Landreau and Bordeaux boss Raphael Ibanez were linked – alongside Richard Cockerill, Robbie Deans and Todd Blackadder – to the soon-to-be-vacant head coach’s position at Clermont.
In one of those ironies that only fixture lists can deliver, Landreau’s Grenoble will become the 63rd team to attempt to bring Clermont’s home winning streak – which, don’t forget, dates back to November 2009 – to a shuddering halt.
Expect to read in the very near future, that – and with irony heaped on irony – Bordeaux, who will follow Grenoble into the Clermont cauldron, will be aiming (and most likely failing) to end a 64-match winning streak.
The first match of the weekend, on Friday night, sees Perpignan entertain Montpellier, who have shot up from bottom to second in the Top 14 on the back of three wins in as many games, and who will be brimming with confidence after beating Toulouse 25-0 last Sunday.
It’s hard to see them not extending their winning run against the hosts, even though James Hook is likely to start after being given a place on the bench for their 19-16 dull-as-ditchwater defeat to Racing Metro.
Toulon have a score to settle with their opponents Castres on Saturday afternoon. A week after lifting the Heineken Cup in Dublin earlier this year, they were expected to add the Top 14 title to their collection at Stade de France against CO. But something went horribly wrong, and they lost 19-14 – much to the surprise of just about everyone beyond the suburbs of the Tarn town. Not that it should have done. Castres’s record against Toulon is pretty impressive – so it’s probably not wise to bet against them repeating the trick on home soil on Saturday.
Bordeaux’s home match against Oyonnax will probably turn into a straight shootout between kicking fly-halves Pierre Barnard and Benjamin Urdapilleta. Tough to call, this game between 11th and 7th in the Top 14, but home advantage will probably count for something here, as the visitors have yet to win outside Stade Charles Mathon. That said, there’s always a first time…
It would be a brave pundit indeed who would give Biarritz anything approaching a chance against Toulouse at Ernest Wallon – especially a Toulouse side still hurting after that 25-0 shock at Montpellier last Sunday. Despite all the positive sounds coming out of the Biarritz camp (usually involving youth and the next generation of players), anything other than a home win is close to unthinkable.
Almost as unthinkable is the notion that Bayonne, despite being two for two at home, will have enough to deny even a misfiring Racing Metro. The only question really should be: will Racing pick up an attacking bonus point? And the answer has to be – probably.
It should also be no contest at Jean-Bouin, as struggling Brive face a Stade Francais side looking to maintain a perfect record on home turf. And there’s no reason to suspect they won’t manage it. Stade – who have beaten Biarritz and Clermont at home already this season – should be far too good for the visitors.
Clermont v Grenoble: Clermont to win by 15
Perpignan v Montpellier: Montpellier to win by 7
Castres v Toulon: Castres to win by 5
Bordeaux v Oyonnax: Bordeaux to win by 4
Toulouse v Biarritz: Toulouse to win by 12
Bayonne v Racing Metro: Racing Metro to win by 15
Stade Francais v Brive: Stade to win by 15
By James Harrington (@blackmountained)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images