PREVIEW: Clermont ready to 'get burnt'
ROUND 15: French Top 14 leaders Clermont take a weakened squad to reigning champions Castres in the pick of the Top 14 matches in the final weekend before the start of the Six Nations.
The visitors are on an impressive unbeaten run of 13 games in all competitions thanks to the dependable boot of Scotland scrum-half Greig Laidlaw and free-scoring winger Peter Betham, backed up by the league’s most solid defence.
They are without six squad members who are away on international duty with France including Arthur Iturria, Sebastien Vahaamahina, Wesley Fofana, Camille Lopez, Morgan Parra and Damian Penaud but can count on powerful Fiji back-rower Peceli Yato who was rested for last Friday’s victory over Welsh region the Dragons.
Despite a depleted squad, Clermont coach Franck Azema plans on continuing his side’s positive run of results which stretches back to the start of October.
“It’s by getting burnt you learn if something is hot,” he said
“We have to start this period in a positive way and then take on these following weeks with a succinct and solid squad,” Azema added.
Castres sit in a lowly eighth place in the table and have yet to win two straight home games this campaign despite Argentina’s Benjamin Urdapilleta scoring 109 points in 11 appearances.
Christophe Urios has no individuals away with their countries in the build-up to the Six Nations and welcomes former Castres centre Remi Lamerat back to Stade Pierre-Fabre.
On Saturday Lamerat makes his second return to the club he left three years ago with whom he lifted the Bouclier de Brennus in 2013.
The 19-time international who is not part of Jacques Brunel’s Six Nations squad understands very well what makes the outfit based in the town with a population of 40,000 tick.
“I know how the club works, I spent five formidable years there and I have kept many links there. It’s a big village but also a big club,” he said.
“At Castres, you say everyone is against you, the play isn’t spectacular but it’s a way to motivate you because in reality Castres always get to the play-offs. They’re current French champions, so they’re not jealous of anyone and are superior to many other clubs,” he added.
Elsewhere, second-placed Toulouse play Grenoble licking their European wounds after last weekend’s Champions Cup defeat to Leinster and are missing seven players who are preparing for France’s Six Nations opener against Wales.
Dorian Aldegheri, Julien Marchand, Antoine Dupont, Yoann Huget, Maxime Medard, Romain Ntamack and Thomas Ramos are all unavailable for Ugo Mola.
La Rochelle is without five of their squad including giant front-rower Uini Atonio and face Vern Cotter’s Montpellier who was given the vote of confidence by club owner Mohed Altrad this week after only six league wins so far this campaign.
Lyon play a Racing 92 who are full of clinical, try scoring outside backs as Simon Zebo, Virimi Vakatawa and Juan Imhoff have all touched down on more than 12 occasions this term.
Pitiful Perpignan is still looking for their first Top 14 victory since promotion as they host Pau, lowly Agen head to Bordeaux-Begles and the weekend finishes with Toulon missing the influential trio of France captain Guilhem Guirado, midfielder Mathieu Bastareaud and flyhalf Antoine Dupont taking on Stade Francais on Sunday.
Fixtures (all times GMT):
Saturday, January 26
Castres v Clermont (14.00)
Bordeaux-Begles v Agen (16.05)
Perpignan v Pau (17.00)
La Rochelle v Montpellier (17.00)
Lyon v Racing 92 (19.45)
Sunday, January 27
Toulouse v Grenoble (11.30)
Toulon v Stade Francais (15.50)