Top 14 - Round 8 Preview
Clermont and Perpignan set for final repeat
September 23, 2009
Perpignan celebrate their victory over Clermont Auvergne in last season's Top 14 Final at the Stade de France © Getty Images
The Top 14 reaches Round 8 this weekend with leaders Clermont Auvergne set to visit second-placed Perpignan in a repeat of last year's season final.
The Catalans notched a narrow 22-13 victory at the Stade de France back in June but Clermont have bounced back from their latest heart-breaking disappointment - it was their 10th final defeat - to take an early lead in this season's race for the Bouclier de Brennus.
However, Vern Cotter's men will arrive at the Stade Aime Giral without their captain, Aurelien Rougerie, who has pulled out of the game for 'personal reasons'. Martin Scelzo and Benoit Baby, meanwhile, are still two weeks away from full fitness.
As for the hosts, they are buoyed by the return of David Marty, Benoît Bourrust and Gregory Le Corvec. However, Maxime Mermoz must undergo a late fitness test as he is struggling with an ankle injury.
The latest action kicks off with basement side Albi playing host to mid-table Bayonne at the Stade Municipal. The home side are yet to register a win in this year's competition and face a Bayonne side fresh from a 26-3 thumping of Montpellier last time out.
Elsewhere on Friday, Castres will be looking to close the gap on the leaders when they travel to Stade Amedee-Domenech to tackle Brive. Castres edged out Racing Metro last weekend for their fourth win of the campaign and will face a Brive side who were most-recently on the wrong end of a narrow defeat to Biarritz.
The Basque side welcome Toulon to Parc des Sports Aguilera on Saturday knowing victory would lift them above their big-spending rivals. But they will face a stiff task against a Toulon side buoyed by a superb victory over Toulouse in front of a bumper crowd in Marseille last Sunday.
However, Toulon boss Philippe Saint-Andre has decided to rest Laurent Emmanuelli, Sebastien Bruno and Mafileo Kefu while it is rumoured that both Pierre Mignoni and Jonny Wilkinson will be left on the bench. In addition, skipper Joe van Niekerk is an injury doubt, though he has been included in the squad.
Biarritz, meanwhile, are expected to hand a first start to the fit-again Dimitri Yachvili, while Fabien Barcella, Campbell Johnstone et Benoit August are also available for selection once again.
Both Montauban and Bourgoin suffered heavy away defeats on their latest starts and will already be feeling the pressure associated with the wrong end of the table when they clash at the Stade de Sapiac. Bourgoin will travel without Florian Denos, who has been sidelined with a sprained ankle.
Top 14 new boys Racing Metro return home this weekend to take on Montpellier at the Stade Yves Du Manoir in Colombes. Pierre Berbizier's side have just two wins to their name this season but have been boosted by the arrival of Springboks international Frans Steyn, who is in line to make his debut.
In our Game of the Week, Toulouse play host to Stade Francais at the Stade Ernest Wallon. Defeat to Toulon dented the home side's hopes last weekend whereas Stade enter the clash on the back of successive victories secured in the wake of the departure of coach Ewen McKenzie.