Top 14 Round Eight Preview and Predictions
Struggling Stade Francais face league-leaders Clermont in the Marquee game of the week
Rock-bottom Agen travel to face second-bottom Pau at the Hameau Stadium
BY OLIVER ROBY
Saturday 7th November
13:45 – Toulon v Montpellier
17:30 – Brive v Bordeaux-Begles
17:30 – La Rochelle v Oyonnax
17:30 – Pau v Agen
19:45 – Toulouse v Grenoble
Sunday 8th November
11:15 – Castres v Racing
15:15 – Stade Francais v Clermont
Stade Francais v Clermont
Before the start of the season, this would have been billed as a potential title-changing four-pointer as the reigning champions took on a side looking to knock them off their perch but, fast-forward seven rounds, and it is two teams at opposite ends of the table whose fortunes could barely be any more different.
Stade Francais, without a host of players due to the World Cup, have suffered a staggeringly poor start to the year, winning only twice and sitting just a place above the relegation zone having picked up just one win since August. By contrast, Clermont have enjoyed a storming start to the year and sit four points clear at the top of the table, racking up 232 points on their way to suffering just one defeat so far.
RUCK Prediction: Despite a challenging couple of weeks for the title-hopefuls of late, which has included their only loss of the season, they should pick up a comfortable win against the Top 14’s third-bottom side, compounding their hosts’ miserable start to the year. Clermont by 15.
Toulon v Montpellier
This game, which is live on Sky Sports 3, brings together two sides who are yet to flex their title-hopeful muscles this season as eighth-placed Toulon host Montpellier, who are fourth.
Similarly, both sides, after finding their feet in recent weeks, suffered defeats last time out with Toulon losing 29-33 at Grenoble, while Toulouse moved into Montpellier’s top three place courtesy of an impressive 33-25 win on the road, so both sides will be keen to return to form this weekend and re-ignite their charge for silverware this season.
RUCK Prediction: As two point-friendly sides who have porous defences come together, expect a high-scoring and entertaining clash. Despite home advantage, it could be a tough day for Toulon. Montpellier by 6.
Brive v Bordeaux-Begles
Two teams who have played out almost identical starts to the 2015/16 season face off at the Amédée-Domenech, with Brive looking to close the one-point gap of their visitors on Saturday.
However, they had differing fortunes last weekend, with Bordeaux winning 21-16 at home to La Rochelle, while Brive slipped to an agonising 17-14 defeat at Racing on Halloween. Both sides have shown strong signs of potential this season, with Bordeaux notably taking a stunning 26-all draw from their trip to table-topping Clermont, while Brive’s efforts last time out earned widespread plaudits.
RUCK Prediction: At this early stage of the season, this is already a ‘big’ game, as, whoever loses, could end the weekend up to 14 points adrift of top spot. After the agony of defeat last time out, Brive should turn their fortunes around with a win on home turf. Brive by 5.
La Rochelle v Oyonnax
This could well be an important game in the relegation battle as two teams who are fighting at the wrong end of the table come together on the West coast.
La Rochelle have been a picture of inconsistency this season, picking up two home wins so far but losing all four of their away games, while Oyo endured a torrid September and an equally-torrid October finally came to an end on Saturday as they thrashed Pau 42-23 to pick up their first win since August. While perhaps not high on quality, this game has all the ingredients to be a tight and tense classic.
RUCK Prediction: Buoyed by their win last weekend, Oyo will be in a confident mood but Rochelle have an excellent home record to protect and should take the spoils. La Rochelle by 10.
Pau v Agen
Another relegation battle brings together the division’s bottom two sides as rock-bottom Agen travel to face second-bottom Pau at the Hameau Stadium.
Both sides have shown signs of life this season, picking up two wins each and both seem to be shock specialists with Pau’s triumphs coming against top four teams Toulouse, 9-6, and Montpellier, 26-16, Meanwhile Agen beat second-placed Racing in September before claiming an outstanding 28-23 win over reigning champions Stade Francais last weekend, but Agen look set to be favourites to extend Pau’s losing run to four successive games.
RUCK Prediction: As two sides who relish the underdog tag come together, an intriguing clash could well be in store, but Agen know what it takes to win and, with Pau winless Since September, they could well pick up their first away win of the season. Agen by 7.
Toulouse v Grenoble
Saturday’s late kick-off has paired together two of the chasing pack with Toulouse, third in the table after two losses this season, welcoming resurgent Grenoble, who have won their last two matches, to the Ernest-Wallon.
Grenoble sit sixth in the table and come into the game as one of the division’s form sides having edged out Castres 31-23 away from home two weeks ago, before a 33-29 home win over Toulon last time out propelled them into the top half of the table despite starting the year with three defeats from their first four fixtures of the season. But Toulouse have every right to feel self-assured having recovered from a 12-10 loss at Bordeaux two weeks ago to pick up an impressive 33-25 win over Montpellier on Saturday.
RUCK Prediction: With two high-class sides coming together, a high-quality game can be expected, but don’t bank on a home win. Grenoble will have every confidence they can ruin their hosts’ 100 per cent home record. Grenoble by 1.
Castres v Racing
In a weekend of tight games, if this goes to form, we could well see a blowout in Sunday’s early kick-off as in-form Racing travel to Castres, who have been in freefall in recent weeks.
After a promising start to the season, Castres have endured an alarming dip in fortunes, losing five of their last six fixtures and conceding a mountain of points in the process, shipping 73 in just their last two games. Meanwhile, Racing have been in imperious form, ticking off four successive wins since their shock 30-18 defeat to Agen in round three. That was their only loss of the season, meaning they haven’t tasted defeat since early September.