Top 14 Round Seven Preview and Predictions
Montpellier can keep the pressure on Clermont at the summit of the Top 14
Table-toppers Clermont host Castres in Saturday’s evening game
Bordeaux can build upon their win over Toulouse last time out with their home game against La Rochelle.
Bordeaux-Bègles v La Rochelle
Oyonnax v Pau
Agen v Stade Français
Racing 92 v Brive
Montpellier v Toulouse
Clermont v Castres
Grenoble v Toulon
Montpellier v Toulouse
Saturday’s televised game, which kicks off at 13:30 on Sky Sports 5, brings together two sides who have title aspirations in 2016.
Montpellier, the hosts, sit second in the table and come into the game in fine form having won their last four games, including a stunning 24-19 home win against table-toppers, Clermont last week, which has seen the gap close to just one point at the top of the table.
Timoci Nagusa is the man Toulouse will need to stop if they are going to take the spoils, with the Fijian already on four tries for the season.
In the visiting camp, Toulouse have enjoyed a solid start to the season and sit fourth in the table after winning four of their first six games. However, having lost on two of their last three outings, they are still yet to reach top form and will be looking to bounce back from their 12-10 defeat at Bordeaux last week get their title challenge on track.
RUCK Prediction: This game has all the ingredients of a classic but Montpellier, with their excellent recent form and a home crowd to call upon, should have the edge. Montpellier by 6.
Agen v Stade Francais
It has been a tough year so far for Agen, the rock-bottom side having won just one game so far this year, including losses in their last three games.
The prospect of relegation is a real one for Saturday’s hosts, especially after a disappointing 23-6 reverse at the hands of relegation rivals La Rochelle last time out.
In opposition come reigning champions, Stade Francais, who have struggled in the 2015/16 campaign so far with their host of World Cup absentees leaving them languishing in 12th place on the table.
They have won just one of their last five games, a worrying start for the All Pinks. Jules Plisson has been their go-to man for points, but his goalkicking has not been supplemented by tries so far this year. The return of their World Cup stars will lift them from danger, but this has been a concerning start nonetheless.
RUCK Prediction: The pre-game build up has all the hallmarks of a convincing win for the visitors, but Agen will be keen to prove a point as they look to climb out of the relegation zone. Agen by 1.
Bordeaux v La Rochelle
After a stuttering start, Bordeaux have found their feet in recent weeks and are unbeaten in their last three.
After a convincing 31-16 win at Agen two weeks ago, arguably their finest win of the year followed last weekend as they edged out Toulouse 12-10, Baptiste Serin kicking all the points in a landmark win for Les Girondins, which saw them move into the top half of the table.
Similarly, free-scoring La Rochelle have enjoyed an upturn in fortunes of late, running in 22 and 24 points in losses against Toulon and Toulouse respectively, before a superb 23-6 win over relegation rivals Agen last time out which lifted them up to tenth in the table.
RUCK Prediction: With both sides in good form, a high-quality game is in prospect, but Bordeaux, even without the likes of Adam Ashley-Cooper to call upon, should have enough to take the spoils. Bordeaux by 10.
Oyonnax v Pau
A battle between two of the lesser-lauded Top 14 sides takes place at the Charles-Mathon on Saturday as 11th-placed Pau travels to Oyonnax, who sit 13th.
In a challenging year so far, Oyo had shown signs of life of late, scoring 59 points in their last three games against Racing, Castres and Clermont, but last week unearthed all the signs of a relegation-threatened side as they slumped to a 61-3 defeat at Toulon.
It was a chastening night for a side who have failed to win since August and Pau, promoted last year, will be looking to take full advantage of their hosts’ poor run to extend their buffer on the relegation places.
Despite their lowly position, Pau have been one of the stories of the season so far, showing impressive home form to down both Montpellier, 26-16, and Toulouse, 9-6, the Stade du Hameau in a promising start to the season.
RUCK Prediction: Pau’s away form has left a lot to be desired so far this year but, if they play to their best tomorrow afternoon, that elusive victory on the road will come. Pau by 7.
Racing v Brive
The last of the 1pm kick offs tomorrow sees two of the title race’s underdogs come together at Stade Olympique.
Racing have been in outstanding form this season, their only defeat coming in a shock 30-18 reverse at Agen last month. While not as potent in attack as their title rivals, they are the division’s sixth-top scorers, their defence has proven to be crucial, conceding only three tries in their last three games to lay the platform for three successive wins over the last three weeks, including a 27-18 triumph over Stade Francais.
In the visiting camp, Brive have shown signs of life in their bid to secure a first league title since 1996, grinding out their four wins so far this year by a collective margin of just 20 points and will be buoyed after returning to winning ways last time out as they overcame home-loving Pau 18-13.
RUCK Prediction: In a game that is certain to come down to tight margins, the kickers will come to the fore, and Brive can call upon the form kicker in the competition in the form of Gaetan Germain, who kicked all of his side’s points last week. Brive by 3.
Clermont v Castres
Saturday’s late kick-off brings together two sides who will be keen to right the wrongs of last week having both suffered close defeats last time out.
Clermont, who sit at the top of the Top 14 ladder, saw their grip on top spot loosened by second-placed Montpellier in a 24-19 defeat on the road last week, but will be confident of keeping their place having scored 169 points on their way to a five-game unbeaten run at the start of the year
Meanwhile, Castres were beaten 23-31 by Grenoble on home turf last Saturday, their third loss from their last four games which has seen them slip to ninth in the table.
RUCK Prediction: Last week aside, Clermont have enjoyed an excellent start to the year, and that should continue tomorrow against a side who have struggled for form over the past fortnight. Clermont by 15.
Grenoble v Toulon
Sunday’s only fixture and the first Top 14 clash of November sees a mid-table battle taking place on Sky Sports 3’s Red Button service.
Kicking off at 3.15pm, neither side will be content with their season so far with hosts Grenoble sitting eighth in the table after three wins from six games. An impressive 41-15 victory over Pau in early September proved to be a false dawn as successive defeats followed, with a confidence-boosting 31-23 win over Castres away from home last week.
Toulon have been similarly inconsistent this season and have an identical record to their hosts on Sunday, but the title-hopefuls, who are sixth in the league, found their form last week and ruthlessly ripped hapless Oyonnax to shreds in a 61-3 win. A sign of things to come?
RUCK Prediction: As two of the Top 14’s ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ sides come together, expect plenty of thrills, spills and points, but don’t bank on a home win, Toulon have their mojo back. Toulon by 24.