Preview: Toulouse and Clermont drama
TOP 14 SPOTLIGHT: Just days before the Christmas, the Top14 has managed to provide the rugby community with a tantalising fixture.
Forget the mushy Christmas movies and reality shows, if you cannot get to the Stade Marcel-Michelin on Sunday then find a comfy sofa, commandeer the tv remote and tune in to what promises to be one of the great rugby matches of the season: Clermont against Toulouse.
Toulouse, after a few years in the doldrums, are back to their bristling best, a threat in Europe where they top their Champions Cup pool with four wins from four, and a growing force at home where they have won their last five Top 14 matches.
It’s a run of nine games over three months without defeat which leaves them just three points behind Clermont going into round 12 with the Christmas number one spot at stake in Sunday’s game.
“We are not surprised, it was always a team in waiting,” said Clermont coach Franck Azema.
“They changed things around a few seasons back, it has taken some time but they believe in the way they play and in their spirit which is unique to them. They have rediscovered their style,”
Clermont, though, are made of different stuff. Like Toulouse they have been invincible in Europe this season, albeit in the lesser Challenge Cup, and they are on an eight-match unbeaten run.
Azema’s team are also unbeaten at home in the Top 14 and that could be Toulouse’s great stumbling block.
Their last win at Clermont was back in 2002 since when numerous Toulouse sides, some of them among the greatest the club has produced, have returned home without a win.
For the viewer in the comfy sofa, it promises to be a treat as they are the two best-attacking sides in France, each of them averaging more than three tries per game.
It is an important weekend as well for Stade Francais as they struggle to come to terms with the death of their young player Nicolas Chauvin, a tragedy which has launched a nationwide debate about safety in rugby.
After a strong start to the season, the Parisians have faltered of late, losing their last three Top 14 matches. They are now down in eighth place and need a win at struggling Agen to reboot their season.
One place behind them lie Montpellier who have lost three of their last four but who showed signs of a return to form with a convincing 34-13 win over Toulon in the Champions Cup last weekend.
On Saturday they travel to Grenoble who have won just one of their last six and are now focussed on survival rather than play-offs.
“It’s true that we are badly-placed and we need to pick up some points,” flanker Yacouba Camara told Midi-Olympique. “But we know that to play in Grenoble is not easy. We will see where we really are.”
Bordeaux-Begles travel to Castres on Sunday without their South African lock Jandre Marais who has been ruled out for the rest of the season after tearing knee ligaments in the 17-14 win at Sale last weekend.
“It’s a real blow, another hole in our season,” said Bordeaux-Begles president Laurent Marti.
Castres scrumhalf Rory Kockott will miss this game as it is the first of a three-match suspension imposed after he gouged the eyes of Chris Cloete during the European win over Munster.
Bottom side Perpignan, still looking for their first win of the season, will be without Adrea Cocagi for their trip to Paris to face Racing 92 on Saturday.
The Fijian centre was suspended for nine weeks after being sent off for a dangerous shoulder charge on Connacht’s Matt Healy.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Agen v Stade Francais (13.30),
Toulon v Lyon (15.30),
Grenoble v Montpellier (17.30)
Racing 92 v Perpignan (17.30)
Pau v La Rochelle (all 1730)
Castres v Bordeaux-Begles (15.50)
ASM Clermont Auvergne v Toulouse (20.00)
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