There’s always a lot at stake when Toulouse entertain local rivals Castres Olympique.
So, referee Romain Poite – yes, that Romain Poite – will have his work cut out when the two sides meet in Saturday afternoon’s Top 14 match.
Guy Noves’ Toulouse record at home this season is impressive. No visiting side has yet made it into double figures at Ernest Wallon. In fact, only Biarritz’s Teddy Thomas has scored a try against them at home. Add long-standing derby rivalry – and the fact that Castres took over from Toulouse as Top 14 champions – into the mix and yes, it’s a powder keg.
A win away from home is probably too much to expect even of a Castres side that downed Toulon last week. Toulouse – even though they’re likely to be without Thierry Dusautoir and Louis Picamoles – should come out on top, but it will be a brutal encounter of the hard kind.
The Top 14 weekend kicks off as Montpellier face Clermont on Friday night. On their day, Fabien Galthie’s Montpellier are arguably the most exciting, destructive side in the Top 14, while Vern Cotter’s Clermont are capable of launching devastating attack after devastating attack from just about anywhere on the pitch. If these two sides meet, this could be an early contender for match of the season. If, however, self-destructive Montpellier come out of the dugout, it’s going to be a cakewalk for the visitors.
No club in the Top 14 likes losing, that goes without saying. But Toulon really don’t like losing. Pity poor Bayonne, then, who travel to Stade Mayol just a week after the Var side were beaten at Castres.
The visitors were on the wrong end of a 55-0 pounding at Clermont earlier in the season. Chances are the result on Saturday will feature a similarly large number on the left-hand side.
Another side likely to be staring down a barrel this weekend are Bordeaux. They travel to Yves du Manoir just as the big-money stars of Racing Metro are starting to play as a team. A cloudburst in Bayonne denied the ciel et bleu the chance to show what they can do last week, but the weather is set fair on Saturday. Which could be very bad news indeed for Raphael Ibanez’s Begles.
Bottom-of-the-table Biarritz – whose fixture list has already featured Clermont, Montpellier, Stade, Oyonnax, Toulon and Toulouse – face another tricky match against the combative Grenoble. At least they’re at home. It will be close, but this could turn into a morale-boosting win for the troubled Basque outfit.
After their 20-minute three-try demolition of Montpellier last week, Perpignan will expect to make it two wins in a row for the first time this season at one-dimensional Brive. The hosts may have won both their Top 14 home games, but don’t expect them to make it three this weekend.
The French top flight’s new boys Oyonnax have already beaten Clermont, Biarritz and Castres at Charles Mathon. It promises to be a tough war of attrition on Saturday evening as they welcome Stade Francais, who will be under no illusions, but it’s a long way from certain that they will be able to do anything about it. The hosts have turned their home in the shadow of the Jura mountains into a fortress. They will be tough for anyone to beat there.
Montpellier v Clermont: Clermont to win by 10
Toulouse v Castres Olympique: Toulouse to win by 5
Brive v Perpignan: Perpignan to win by 12
Toulon v Bayonne: Toulon to win by more than 20
Biarritz v Grenoble: Biarritz to win by 2
Racing Metro v Bordeaux: Racing Metro to win by 15
Oyonnax v Stade Francais: Oyonnax to win by 3
By James Harrington (@blackmountained)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images