Top 14, Round 9 Preview and Predictions
Friday 27th November: Montpellier v La Rochelle (19:45). Saturday 28th November: Racing 92 v Toulouse (13:45) Agen v Castres (17:30) Bordeaux v Pau (17:30) Oyonnax v CA Brive (17:30) Clermont v Toulon (19:45). Sunday 29th November FC: Grenoble v Stade Francais
Clermont v Toulon
Toulon will be looking to bounce back from their remarkable Champions’ Cup horror against Wasps last week with only a second away win of the season against Top 14 leaders Clermont on Saturday
The three-time European champions, despite their embarrassment of riches to call upon, slumped to a shock 32-6 defeat at Wasps on Sunday in what RUCK called the biggest shock in European Rugby history.
Meanwhile, last season’s runners-up Clermont edged Ospreys 34-29.
Toulon, with 16 Rugby World Cup representatives players in their squad, had no answer for Wasps’ firepower as they ran in four tries to make it one defeat from one in Europe.
But a return to Top 14 action will be welcome for the Stade Mayol outfit, with their last domestic game seeing a 52-8 demolition of fellow title hopefuls Montpellier.
But they face a Clermont side in good form themselves after scoring more than 35 points in two of their last league games, alongside a 34-29 defeat of Ospreys. And history says Clermont have had their way against Toulon at home having never lost to them in Auvergne in 26 games since their first meeting in 1936.
RUCK Prediction: A high-quality game is certain here with big-spending Toulon, in fourth, heading to table-topping Clermont, but Toulon’s soft core was exposed in Coventry last weekend, and that could be the case again tomorrow on Sky Sports 4. Clermont by 23.
Racing v Toulouse
Another huge game this weekend sees Toulouse travel to Racing in Saturday’s early kick-off, with both sides looking to build on Top 14 wins last time out.
After a two week break for the Champions’ Cup, Racing, who sit third in the table after six wins from eight games, have second-placed Toulouse firmly in their sights. A win tomorrow could see them up to second and the leaders of the chasing pack, but they are up against it, with Toulouse in fine beautiful form having thrashed Grenoble 52-12 three weeks ago, on top of a solid 24-18 win over Oyonnax in the European Cup last weekend.
RUCK Prediction: A potential classic in store on Sky Sports 2, with the visitors edging to the win. Toulouse by 2.
Agen v Castres
Agen sits rock bottom of the Top 14 with just one win from their last four domestic fixtures. And the Challenge Cup has provided no respite with two more heavy defeats coming their way, London Irish with a 48-10 home win before Edinburgh came away with a 27-6 victory from their trip to France.
In opposition come Castres, who still sit tenth in the table but have found their form in recent weeks. After three successive Top 14 defeats, a shock 34-8 thrashing of high-flying Racing came their way ahead of a hard-earned 32-29 home win over NG Dragons.
RUCK Prediction: Agen are capable of an upset, as shown by their 28-23 win over champions Stade Francais earlier in the year, but this should be a comfortable afternoon for ambitious Castres. Castres by 15.
Bordeaux-Begles v Pau
Though embroiled in the relegation fight, Pau have caught the imagination of the French public with some fine performances after their promotion to the Top 14 last season, with a 26-16 win over Montpellier in August one of the highlights of the season so far.
Their home form has been stoic, with a 9-6 win over Toulouse another highlight at the Stade du Hameau, but their away form has left a lot to be desired, something that star-studded Bordeaux will be looking to exploit. They come into the game as firm favourites having won three of their last four domestic games, and will be keen to bounce back from a 34-19 defeat at Exeter in Europe last time out.
RUCK Prediction: Pau’s home form will be crucial if they are to stay up, and a win here would only be a bonus, not essential to their quest for survival. Bordeaux should make light work of their visitors tomorrow. Bordeaux-Begles by 20.
Oyonnax v Brive
Sitting 13th, the final relegation place, a win for Oyonnax tomorrow would be a welcome one. They will be bidding to rack up their second-successive home triumph, after making light work of Pau in a 42-23 win on Haloween, but they could be low on confidence after a 38-3 defeat to La Rochelle was followed by an agonising 24-18 away loss in the Champions’ Cup last week.
They only qualified for European Rugby’s premier competition by the tightest of margins last season and their exeters against some of the best teams in world rugby could take their toll.
Fifth-placed Brive will certainly be hoping so, as they look to build on four wins from their last six games, which included an impressive 29-26 win over Toulon last month.
RUCK Prediction: Oyo, with their lightweight squad, could struggle on the back of their manful efforts at Toulouse last weekend and their record of one win from their last six doesn’t look set to improve. Brive by 10.
Montpellier v La Rochelle
Friday night brings together two of the Top 14’s under-achieving big guns as Montpellier, sixth in the table, welcome ninth-placed La Rochelle to the Altrad Stadium.
La Rochelle have proven to be consistently inconsistent this year, unable to string together a run of wins with all of their three triumphs from eight games this season followed and preceded by defeats. The Challenge Cup has been a struggle, too, with Gloucester following in Worcester’s footsteps in claiming a comfortable win against Les Cistes.
Meanwhile, Montpellier enjoyed a stellar start to the season but have been rocked in recent weeks by successive Top 14 defeats, 33-25 at home to Toulouse, and 52-8 at Toulon, ahead of a comprehensive 41-18 loss at Harlequins in the Challenge Cup. But a 64-0 thrashing of Italian minnows Calvisiano has brought a timely dose of relief to Jake White’s men.
RUCK Prediction: As two unpredictable sides go head to head, it’s anyone’s guess what might happen, but expect plenty of points with two porous defences on show. Draw.
Grenoble v Stade Francais
Sunday’s only fixture sees defending champions Stade Francais face a tricky-looking trip to Grenoble.
The All Pinks have suffered an appalling start to their title defence, but have shown some signs of their true ability in recent weeks, with two wins from their last four games helping propel them out of the relegation zone and up to 11th. They remain well off the pace, however, and eighth-placed Grenoble will be hopeful of springing a surprise to compound Stade’s miserable campaign.
Despite a hefty 52-12 away defeat to Toulouse in their last Top 14 outing, wins against Toulon, 33-29, and London Irish, 27-20, have ensured Bernard Jackman has no major cause for concern.
RUCK Prediction: As Stade look to get their season going, Grenoble and their ominous home form come into their path. A comfortable home win could be on the cards. Grenoble by 16.