Gibbes' La Rochelle look to break 62-year Clermont duck
PREVIEW: Third-placed La Rochelle head to leaders Clermont on Sunday looking for their first ever win at Stade Marcel Michelin in more than 60 years of matches in the pick of this weekend’s Top 14 action.
Jonno Gibbes’ team have never tasted victory at Clermont in 16 attempts dating back to 1956 and the hosts’ impressive recent form suggests the record is set to continue.
The league’s most potent attack with 419 points in 13 games can count on the free-flowing New Zealander in Peter Betham who has dotted down on seven occasions and the pinpoint boot of Scotland scrumhalf Greig Laidlaw who is three points from crossing the century benchmark for the campaign.
However, the visitors are six points from top spot for a reason having only lost once since September in a period where New Zealander Gibbes has taken over the reins at Stade Marcel-Deflandre joining fellow countrymen who have stood out on the field recently in Victor Vito, Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Ihaia West.
Elsewhere, in the opening round of the new years Racing 92 and Toulon meet in Paris on Saturday after both conceded more than 35 points in humiliating thumpings last weekend.
Bordeaux-Begles thrashed the capital city outfit 40-7 and travel to Pau with Joe Worsley’s outfit searching for a sixth win in seven since Rory Teague was sacked as coach in mid-November, a period which has included their first three successes away from home this season.
France international Jefferson Poirot praised his teammates’ reaction in the six weeks since the Englishman had left the club.
“Rory’s departure surprised the whole squad a little bit. Instead of letting it get to us and divide us we have come together and tightened up,” the prop said.
“Until recently we have found it hard away from home, but now we’re improving. That can’t stop at Pau.”
Toulouse whipped former European and French champions Toulon 39-0 and travel to Agen looking to extend their unbeaten run to 12 games.
Australian Richie Arnold could make his Toulouse debut in the derby having joined the club as medical cover for the injured Scotland lock Richie Gray but they will be without France scrumhalf Antoine Dupont who has been given a week’s rest due to his international commitments
Stade Francais welcome basement side Perpignan, Grenoble play champions Castres and Montpellier face Lyon in the other games.
This weekend also gives French players one last chance to stake their claim in Jacques Brunel’s Six Nations squad which he names on Wednesday ahead of the tournament opener against Wales on February 1.
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