PREVIEW: Warm-up to Euro semis for France's top two sides
TOP 14, WEEK 22: Toulouse and Clermont prepare for the European semifinals in a week’s time by facing each other in a sold-out French Top 14 blockbuster showdown on Sunday.
Ugo Mola’s Toulouse sit at the top of the table and are readying for a trip to holders Leinster in the Champions Cup as Franck Azema’s second-placed Clermont welcome Harlequins in the second-tier Challenge Cup.
This weekend’s fixture has been moved from Toulouse’s home, Stade Ernest-Wallon, to the 32 700-capacity football stadium in the south-west city with every ticket having already gone more than three weeks ago.
It will be the 65th occasion for French rugby’s most successful club to relocate a game to Stadium de Toulouse since the first time in 1997.
Rugby royalty Toulouse have four European titles and a record 19 French crowns to their name and are attempting to recover from last weekend’s loss to Toulon in Marseille, a first league defeat since September.
Fiji’s Sam Matavesi is set for his debut after joining as medical cover from English outfit the Cornish Pirates after international hookers Julien Marchand and Leonardo Ghiraldini were ruled out for the rest of the season with serious knee problems.
Another welcome addition is Australian flyhalf Zack Holmes who was suspended for the surprising poor result at the Stade Velodrome.
He has escaped a heavy ban after receiving a red card for a dangerous tackle on Juan Imhoff during the Champions Cup quarterfinal win over Racing92 a fortnight ago.
The likes of former All Blacks Jerome Kaino and Charlie Faumuina as well as South Africa side-stepping wizard Cheslin Kolbe could be rested with a first Top 14 semifinal spot since 2015 all-but assured with a 16-point advantage over third-placed Lyon.
Clermont are also coming off a shaky performance with a draw at home to Racing 92 last weekend.
They needed France international Maxime Machenaud to miss a last-minute penalty for the Parisians to avoid a first home defeat in a more than a year despite leading by 12 points after half an hour of play.
Flyhalf Camille Lopez is a doubt for Sunday’s tie after injuring his breastbone in the stalemate at Stade Marcel-Michelin.
All Blacks centre George Moala who has not featured since early March due to a lower-leg issue could return as is the case for international trio Greig Laidlaw, Damian Penaud and Arthur Iturria who were rested last time out.
With domestic last-four spots pretty much in the bag Sunday will serve as a timely test for both outfits ahead of continental clashes in front of a raucous Toulouse crowd used to success on both French and European fronts.
Bordeaux-Begles v Castres
Stade Francais v Agen
Lyon v Perpignan
La Rochelle v Pau
Grenoble v Toulon
Racing92 v Montpellier
Toulouse v Clermont