Top 14 - Round 1 Preview
Perpignan set for Top 14 defence
August 14, 2009
Perpignan kick off their title defence aagainst Bayonne © Getty Images
The Top 14 roars back in to action this weekend after a busy summer of transfers, with Perpignan out to get their title defence off to the best possible start.
The champions face Bayonne on Saturday, after the season opener between Jonny Wilkinson's Toulon and perennial title challengers Stade Francais - our Game of the Week on Friday.
Perpignan will be without French prop Nicolas Mas, who was hospitalised by a bout of appendicitis. Their pre-season form has been shaky, and minus their international contingent due to an enforced rest period they may struggle against a Bayonne side that narrowly missed out on a Heineken Cup place last season.
Perpignan will no doubt already be eyeing Toulouse's fixture against Montauban, with Guy Noves' men likely to provide their usual competition for the title come the end of the season.
Again their pre-season form has been below-par, with nagging doubts also remaining over the fitness of fly-half Frederic Michalak. Jean-Baptiste Elissalde and David Skrela are currently on the injured list, with centre Yannick Jauzion possibly having to wear No.10 this weekend.
Clermont Auvergne, last season's beaten finalists once again, begin their assault on the title away to Bourgoin. Clermont scrum-half Morgan Parra will return to Bourgoin after leaving at the end of last season, and will be hopeful of an impressive performance on familiar territory. He starts on the bench, behind Kevin Senio.
Brive want to break in to the top four this season, with their international flavour set to draw plenty of attention. With Jamie Noon, Riki Flutey and Shaun Perry all joining over the summer, linking up with compatriots Andy Goode and Steve Thompson, there will be plenty of familiar faces for England fans. Goode will miss the opening weekend of action after undergoing minor surgery due to repeated adductor strains.
They kick off the season at home to Montpellier, who will be looking for a positive start after losing their French international No.8 Louis Picamoles to Toulouse.
Racing Metro and Albi face off after both gaining promotion from Pro D2, but it is Racing who are likely to make a bigger impact this season. With France skipper Lionel Nallet joined by Sebastien Chabal in the second-row, there will be no shortage of grunt in their pack.
Nallet's old side Castres take on Biarritz this weekend, with both sides looking to put disappointing campaigns behind them. Biarritz hit a run of form towards the end of last season, and will be hopeful of a more consistent showing over the coming months.