Top 14 Previews and Predictions: Round 8

Could Bayonne and Biarritz merge to form a Basque Country superclub? That rumour – along with several about which rugby superstars Mourad Boudjellal may be bringing to Toulon next season – is doing the rounds in the Top 14 right now.

There’s an early chance to compare the merits and otherwise of the two struggling sides, who meet at Jean Dauger on Saturday. Given the sorry form of Biarritz this season, it’s hard to see the bottom-of-the-table visitors clawing back any of the five points between them and the team that sits just one place above them.

Elsewhere, coaches Laurent Labit and Laurent Travers will be back on familiar territory as they take Racing Metro to Castres Olympique, the side they guided to Brennus-winning glory last season.

Castres have have beaten all-comers at home, but have been unable to win away this term. They have come close twice – against Perpignan and Bordeaux – but were blown away in the second half at Toulouse last week.

That said, few visiting teams win at Fortress Pierre Antoine. Grenoble couldn’t do it. Stade Francais couldn’t do it. Toulon couldn’t do it. Even if Racing manage – finally – to play to their expensively assembled potential, they probably won’t be able to do it, either… especially as Castres’ players will want to show their old coaches exactly what they’re missing.

Oyonnax’s 15-16 defeat against Stade Francais last weekend brought to a halt a two-year unbeaten home run. They will have their work cut out holding back the rouge-et-noir tide of Toulon on Saturday, but don’t expect that there will be much in this. The hosts are tough to beat at home, as Clermont, Castres and Biarritz have already discovered, and Bernard Laporte’s Var side have looked a little out of sorts in recent weeks.

After their morale-shredding 43-3 defeat at Montpellier last week, Clermont boss Vern Cotter is probably secretly delighted that his side are back at home, where they haven’t been beaten in 63 games. Expect that number to increase to 64 after the visit of Bordeaux this weekend.

Clermont’s conquerors from the Herault region of southern France, meanwhile, face a difficult trip to Stade Jean-Bouin, the new-look home of a born-again Stade Francais. The hosts are defending a perfect record this season and are unlikely to lose it against Fabien Galthie’s side who are finding life on the road much more difficult than at home.

The last time they were on the road, they were destroyed in an astonishing 20-minute blitz at Perpignan. This week, James Hook and co welcome Toulouse. Guy Noves’ side have been nearly unstoppable at home and approaching awful away. Chances are they won’t be quite as awful as they were against Montpellier a fortnight ago, but all the indications are that the hosts will squeak home.

All of which just leaves Grenoble v Brive. This looks an easy call on paper. Grenoble should win on home soil – but, if the Top 14 has proved anything this season, it’s that what looks simple on paper is a whole lot more difficult on the pitch. Not that Brive should give the hosts much trouble at Stade Lesdiguieres. On paper, at least.

SuperBru predictions:

Stade Francais v Montpellier: Stade Francais to win by 12
Oyonnax v Toulon: Toulon to win by 7
Bayonne v Biarritz: Bayonne to win by 9
Castres v Racing Metro: Castres to win by 12
Grenoble v Brive: Grenoble to win by 7
Perpignan v Toulouse: Perpignan to win by 4
Clermont v Bordeaux: Clermont to win by 15

By James Harrington (@blackmountained)

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images