Pace-setters hitting the road

Fri, 21 Dec 2012 10:12
Large guy noves toulouse Large vern cotter clermont Large david skrela toulouse

France's Top 14 resumes this weekend after a two-week break for European Cup action with the three pace-setters - Toulon, Toulouse and Clermont all looking for away wins.

France's Top 14 resumes this weekend after a two-week break for European Cup action with the three pace-setters - Toulon, Toulouse and Clermont all looking for away wins.

Toulon, who are top with 47 points travel to second-from bottom Agen, Toulouse on 42 are away to Grenoble and Clermont on 40 make the trip to Bordeaux.

Clermont are first up on Friday and they will be full of confidence following their impressive 28-21 win over Irish powerhouses Leinster in Dublin.

"We have just spent two very intense weeks and put in a power of hard work with a lot of passion and at the end of it all we have two excellent wins," flyhalf David Skrela said.

"But we know full well that they were just pool matches and that the season has still a long way to go.

"We need to get our focus back on the Top 14 and get the win over Bordeaux and then we can enjoy the festive period."

Following the tough back-to-back games with Leinster, Clermont coach Vern Cotter has dug deep into his squad, making 14 changes including the return of international wing Julien Malzieu after seven months out with a calf-muscle injury.

Toulouse will be looking to bounce back from a troubling 6-17 loss away to Ospreys, but they will need to hold off a Grenoble side which has impressed so far this season, leaving them in sixth place and still in with a chance of making the playoffs.

Veteran Toulouse coach Guy Noves said that he was full of admiration for Grenoble, who were promoted into the Top 14 last season.

"Grenoble were very effective in the close season making some excellent signings," he said.

"They are a very complete team and they are fully concentrated on the championship as they are less involved than us in Europe.

"That means that they have a time of recovery which is longer than for our players and they can put in extra preparation work which always helps promote a good side."

For league leaders Toulon, the object will be different as they would happily settle for another performance like they one they produced last weekend with a 62-0 thumping of Sale at Stade Mayol.

Coach Pierre Mignoni, however, had a warning for his talented and expensive squad, saying that they could not afford to take lowly Agen for granted.

"That win [over Sale] gave us a lot of pleasure. When you play like that you can really achieve great things, But you have to look at who you are playing against and it is time to pass onto the next challenge."

Mignoni will no doubt remind his players that their three last visits to Agen all resulted in losses, the last one being a 22-13 upset in April.

Toulon will be without the services of fly-half Frederic Michalak and Springbok lock Bakkies Botha, who are both injured.

In other matches fourth-placed Castres host struggling Racing Metro, Perpignan take on Montpellier in a southeast derby, Stade Francais go up against Biarritz and Bayonne are at home to bottom club Mont-de-Marsan

Fixtures:

Friday, December 21:
Bordeaux-Begles v Clermont

Saturday, December 22:
Grenoble v Toulouse
Castres v Racing Metro
Perpignan v Montpellier
Stade Francais v Biarritz
Bayonne v Mont-de-Marsan
Agen v Toulon

AFP

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