Top 14 Round Five Preview and Predictions
Friday, 16th October, 2015.
Agen v Bordeaux 18:45
Clermont v Pau 18:45
Grenoble v Montpellier 18:45
Oyonnax v Racing 18:45
Stade Francais v Castres 18:45
Toulouse v La Rochelle 20:00
Saturday, 17th October, 2015.
Brive v Toulon 13:45
Stade Francais v Castres
Just four months on from securing their first title in eight years, Stade Français find themselves in the unfamiliar position of being bottom of the table.
After their their opening-day win over Pau, three successive losses have followed as their lack of squad depth comes to the fore. With Rabah Slimani, Pascal Papé, Alexandre Flanquart and Sergio Parisse all unavailable this weekend, their pack looks decidedly lean.
Tonight’s visitors, Castres, have sprung back to life this season after a disappointing campaign last time out, claiming two wins from their first four games on the back of a fine start to the year for their pack which has been bolstered by the likes of Alex Tulou.
RUCK Prediction: With the hosts not at full strength, improvement is expected over the coming weeks, so today is an ideal opportunity for Castres to steal an early march on one of their potential play off rivals. But the All Pinks will be keen to return to form as soon as possible and a home win could well be on the cards.
Stade Francais by 10.
Odds: Stade Francais 1/3; Draw 18/1; Castres 9/4.
Agen v Bordeaux
These two sides have endured tough starts to the season, picking up just one win apiece. Although early in the year, it is already a big clash for both teams as they look to keep within reaching distance of the top sides.
Last time out, Bordeaux produced arguably their best performance of the year to draw with Clermont, but they threw away a 14-point interval lead, a collapse which will have given Head Coach Raphaël Ibañez plenty to think about during the week. They remain ambitious, but injuries have hampered their progress so far this season. Their back line has notably suffered with Roman Lonca arguably their only available first choice back.
In the other camp, Agen have been left frustrated by critical errors. Their loss to Tolouse hinged on two poor lineouts, while a late drop in form cost them points against Grenoble. Crunch those mistakes and add a steely edge to their scrum and Agen, pre-season favourites for relegation, could well be in for a positive year. But a win tonight will be crucial to their fortunes going forward.
RUCK Prediction: Bordeaux will be looking for a win to propel their season to where they want it to be, but Agen will offer a fervent and spirited opponent and a home win would not be a surprise. However, if the hosts’ errors continue, Bordeaux have the experience to take full advantage.
Bordeaux by 10.
Odds: Agen 4/7; Draw 18/1; Bordeaux 11/8.
Clermont v Pau
After three wins and a draw so far this season, Clermont sit at the top of the table and boast the division’s only unbeaten record. They have undoubtedly been the form team and will be rightly confident of continuing that run for a fifth week.
Added to their impressive form, they will have three of their World Cup stars to call upon in the form of Davit Zirakashvili, Viktor Kolelishvili and Jamie Cudmore. In their absence, youngsters have stepped up admirably, but changes are expected after a disappointing home draw with Bordeaux last time out.
Pau have enjoyed fine home form, but concerns have been raised at their fortunes on the road after promotion last season. While they’ve managed wins over Montpellier and Toulouse Stade du Hameau, heavy losses, chiefly attributed to poor discipline, at Stade Français and Grenoble leave them ninth in the table.
RUCK Prediction: Clermont should pick up a comfortable win. Pau have struggled on their travels, while today’s hosts have been imperious both home and away. Despite dropping points at the Marcel Michelin last time out, Franck Azéma will have an embarrassment of riches to choose from with competition for places fierce.
Clermont by 28.
Odds: Clermont 1/16; Draw 25/1; Pau 7/1.
Grenoble v Montpellier
Having failed to win in their first five clashes since returning to the top flight, Grenoble finally ended their run last year with a thrilling 20-18 win in February. This year, Grenoble have been a force at home, claiming ten points from a possible ten, but their away form has left a lot to be desired.
Montpellier, who sit second in the table, look dangerous and have coped well without their World Cup-bound stars. A fierce pack alongside a fine set of backs has proven to be a fine combination for the 2011 Top 14 runners up and another triumph tonight would keep the pressure firmly on table toppers, Clermont.
RUCK Prediction: This could prove to be one of the weekend’s closest clashes. The two sides have been well matched of late and Montpellier’s promising start, combined with Grenoble’s superb early home form should make for a high quality contest.
Montpellier by 1.
Odds: Grenoble 4/9; Draw 18/1; Montpellier 7/4.
Oyonnax v Racing
This tie at the Stade Charles-Mathon sees two of last year’s play-off contenders come together. Wile Oyo enjoyed their best ever season, Racing were left disappointed with their campaign. Both sides fell early on in the play-offs, but they appear to be heading in wildly different directions so far this year.
Though tonight’s hosts impressed in their sole win, over Bordeaux, they have lost their other three games, including a gut-wrenching home defeat to Clermont, leaving them 11th on the league ladder.
By contrast, Racing have won three of their first four fixtures, having built strongly on their superb first round triumph over Toulon to cement a top four place, despite missing seven French internationals and All Blacks star Dan Carter.
RUCK Prediction: In-form Racing haven’t won at Oyonnax in eight years, so Olivier Azam’s side will go in as slight favourites to pick up their second win of the season. But Racing are in bouyant mood and will be looking to exploit the out-of-sorts hosts as they look to keep up the pace with the leading pack.
Racing by 8.
Odds: Oyonnax 1/2; Draw 18/1; Racing 6/1.
Toulouse v La Rochelle
Ugo Mola suffered his first defeat as Toulouse boss last time out as Pau took full advantage of the visitors’ worst performance of the year after, Mola’s men suffering a poor afternoon in the pack in the 9-6 defeat which saw them slip from second to third in the table.
A home game against La Rochelle looks like it could be a good way of getting back on their game, but they dropped points in the same fixture last season, a poor second half performance allowing La Rochelle to take home their first away points of the season as they lost 29-26.
RUCK Prediction: Tonight’s visitors have enjoyed better fortunes on the road this year and could well have taken a shock win at Racing two weeks ago before a stellar first half at Toulon. La Rochelle certainly won’t go down easily at Ernest Wallon, but a home win should be the outcome.
Toulouse by 20.
Odds: Toulouse 1/10; Draw 25/1; La Rochelle 11/2.
Brive v Toulon
Brive have endured a stuttering start to the season, with tight wins over Agen and Stade Francais countered by a 24-7 reverse at Toulouse and an agonising three-point defeat at La Rochelle. They are yet to find top form this year but find themselves in mid table and with plenty to build on going forward.
In the other camp, Toulon have found themselves in good form recently, bouncing back well from their 27-22 defeat at home to Racing in round one. They scored a remarkable 45 points in their win against La Rochelle and have shown signs of potential in the early weeks of the season.
RUCK Prediction: In a clash of two mid-table sides who have lofty ambitions for the 2015/16 campaign, this is a cruical clash for both teams which could set the tone for the year ahead. Both could do better and a result could provide the springboard for either side to kick on.
Brive by 3.
Odds: Brive 3/5; Draw 16/1; Toulon 11/8.