CASTRES-ON-TOLIET, FRANCE – Some Top 14 fans felt more ill than Mr. Harrington this week, after finding out some national team players wouldn’t be available for club duty and looking at the weekend’s match-ups.
The match-up of the weekend features reigning 2013 European Champions and Top 14 runners-up Toulon against Castres. There are several sub-plots that make this game the one to watch. First, there is the Rory Kockott saga. It is still unresolved as to which club he will be playing for in the fall of 2014. It will be for one of these two sides and he may be hedging his bets, although Castres are reportedly 90% confident he’ll stay in Tarn. Second, you have national team players like Mathieu Bastareaud whom the FFR and Le Coqs Head Coach Phillipe Saint Andre requested being rested after playing in the first two 6N tests. However, Toulon owner, Mourad Boudjellal has given coach Bernard Laporte assurance that Mathieu Bastareaud will be available to play on Saturday. The final sub-plot is that Laporte himself can’t be at the game. Laporte is banned until the 13th of May for stating the following regarding referee Laurent Cardona, ” He is completely incompetent. He robs us every time. On the game’s last move there was a strategic error, a referee error. It is not just this incident where he was hopeless. He was hopeless all the match. He is always hopeless.” Laporte will miss the rest of Top 14 regular season for those remarks, as well as Toulon’s Heineken Cup quarter-final against Leinster and potential semi-final. He will be free to return the week before the Top 14 semi-finals, if Toulon get that far, as they are currently in 5th.
The Valentine’s Day weekend fixtures begins with Grenoble looking for another big scalp at home to Clermont. The 6th place (and final playoff spot) side look to break Clermont’s heart in Stade Lesdiguières as they did to Toulon, earlier in the year. Clermont is looking to get that rare away win and secure their place atop the league.
Montpellier look to gain some consistency and secure a spot in the playoffs as the Hérault side welcome Perpignan to Stade Yves du Manoir. USAP are only 4 points clear of the relegation zone but 7 points out of a playoff spot, so they will be looking to surprise a Montipol side that is tough to beat at home.
RWU favorites Oyonnax are looking to keep the near perfect home record in good standing against Bordeaux-Begles. Take them lightly at your own peril but the boys from the Plastic City have only lost once at home – and that was the sphincter-tightening 1-point defeat to Stade Francias. Outside of that, many big clubs – like Toulon and Clermont – have walked out of Stade Charles-Mathon with their heads hung low in defeat.
The disappointing car wreck that is Racing Metro-Paris sits in 8th place in the standings. The remarkable part is if they get a 4-point win and the sides above them lose they can climb to 4th place in one swoop. This weekend they welcome Bayonne to Stade Olympique Yves-du-Manoir. Bayonne need the win themselves as they are only 4 points ahead of Oyonnax and with Oyonnax at home and assured points, it is important that Bayonne find some way to leave Paris with at least 1 point for playing good offensive/defensive rugby, if they hope to avoid falling into the relegation zone.
Paris’ other team, Stade Francias make the trip to Brive and Stade Amédée-Domenech. With Brive in 1oth place currently one would be excused for mistaking that as some sort of limbo position, with nothing to gain or lose. However Brive are only 5 points out of a 6th place finish. With 10 games to go, they have a very realistic chance of making the playoffs. In this topsy-turvy Top 14 season “The Men in Pink” have managed to be the epitome of consistency. They haven’t won all their matches but there is far less Jekyll and Hyde behavior between their home and road form. This may serve them well as they look to overtake Clermont and claim a seat at the top of the table.
Comments? Questions? Thoughts? We love to read ’em. Please comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter @: RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, DJ Eberle, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Cody Kuxmann, Jaime Loyd, Jamie Wall and Declan Yeats, respectively.
Grenoble vs Clermont Auvergne, Toulon vs Castres, Montpellier vs Perpignan, Oyonnax vs Bordeaux-Begles, Racing Metro Paris vs Bayonne, Biarritz vs Toulouse, Brive vs Stade Francais