Clermont up for Stade clash
Clermont have warned that they are ready for a resurgent Stade Francais in Top 14 action this weekend.
Clermont have warned that they are ready for a resurgent Stade Francais in Top 14 action this weekend, when league leaders Toulon are expected to send out a weakened team to play defending champions Toulouse.
The Vern Cotter-coached Clermont sit second in the table on 23 points garnered from five wins out of six, with only unbeaten Toulon ahead of them on 27.
But the New Zealander warned that his team would be facing a Stade team that had bounced back full of confidence after trumping Perpignan 34-24 last weekend.
"We must be wary of the Parisians, who just won a very important game last week against Perpignan," said Cotter.
"Stade Francais gained confidence from that and it's a team that often poses us problems.
"They've seen us on television and realise that we're still rebuilding. We know we must up our game plan, and we also know that they're not the same opponents as Grenoble (whom Clermont beat 44-20 last weekend).
"We'll have to play differently, with, I hope, more precision at the start of the match."
Cotter, whose team then play Castres away before turning their attention to the European Cup, said the sole injury doubt was utility back Aurelien Rougerie.
"So we'll certainly change our midfield partnership, but I think we'll rotate the squad a lot more against Castres before entertaining Scarlets for our first European match."
The weekend's standout match pitches Toulouse against Toulon, the high-rollers of the Top 14 whose squads are a who's who of world rugby.
Some of the lustre has been taken away from the fixtures, however, with the decision by Toulon coach Bernard Laporte to rest a raft of his top players after six wins on the trot.
"Bernard has been talking about this for a while now and we are all in agreement," said outspoken Toulon president Mourad Boudjellal.
"The season is long and there is no point being top of the league for 26 matches and then to lose a semi-final."
The Toulon stance has received sympathy from none other than France coach Philippe Saint-Andre, who said it was understandable given the number of matches played every season at club level.
"The problem is that they play 40 matches a year, which is too many," said Saint-Andre, who coached Toulon before taking over as France boss following Marc Lievremont's reign that took in the 2011 World Cup.
"Would you ask a boxer to fight 40 times a year? No, because if they did, they wouldn't be champion for long.
"If Toulon finished the first phase of the Top 14 20 points ahead but with 10 players injured and go on to lose in the play-off semi-finals, they won't be champions of France," Saint-Andre said.
Sunday sees Bayonne bidding to take a further step to kick-start their season after a disastrous sole victory in six outings.
And it won't be an easy task, with an "away" trip to nearby Basque neighbours Biarritz.
Bayonne went down 34-6 to Toulouse last weekend, giving a performance coach Christian Lanta said was "not sufficient".
"We learned a rugby lesson and came across a team that mastered everything that rendered us powerless," Lanta said.
Friday: Clermont v Stade Francais
Saturday: Agen v Bordeaux-Begles, Grenoble v Racing-Metro, Montpellier v Castres, Perpignan v Mont-de-Marsan, Toulouse v Toulon
Sunday: Biarritz v Bayonne