Top 14: Its Trinh-Duc versus Tales
PREVIEW: Castres's trip to Montpellier on Friday will not just pit two potential Top 14 title rivals against each other.
Castres's trip to Montpellier on Friday will not just pit two potential Top 14 title rivals against each other, it will also provide a showcase for two of France's best flyhalves.
Remi Tales, of Castres, has been France coach Philippe Saint-Andre's preferred choice, when fit, these last couple of years but under his predecessor Marc Lievremont, Montpellier's Francois Trinh-Duc was mostly the undisputed first pick.
Saint-Andre's disregard for Trinh-Duc's talents has left many observers puzzled.
For the player of Vietnamese and Italian heritage, this direct match-up will be a chance to demonstrate in front of a television audience why many believe he should be No.1.
Certainly if he produces the sort of performance he did in Montpellier's shock 21-20 win at Clermont last Friday - he scored 18 of his side's points with four penalties and two crucial drop goals - then he would increase the clamour for his restoration to the first choice spot for France.
According to France's former flyhalf and record points scorer Christophe Lamaison, Trinh-Duc has all the attributes necessary to force his way back into the national set-up.
"What you notice about Tales is that he is more there for security, to keep the team going forward, and not really to set the world on fire.
"Francois is a lot more creative but it's a double-edged sword: when it goes well it's great to watch but when it goes badly it penalises both the team and the player," said the 43-year-old, who played 37 times for France.
Trinh-Duc's weakness has always been considered to be his defence, although Lamaison says that's an unfair stereotype.
"On the whole, the No.10 is always considered to be a poor defender," he added.
"Francois is one of those No.10s who is not afraid to go into contact.
"On top of that, he also developed as a centre where he would have to have been a great defender.
"If that wasn't the case, Fabien [Galthie, the Montpellier coach] would not have played him there."
Trinh-Duc has also greatly improved his place-kicking the last couple of seasons and took over those duties from scrumhalf Benoit Paillauge, who had missed two from three, against Clermont before putting in a faultless performance.
Montpellier have enjoyed a better start to the season than Castres, winning two of three and losing only at home to Racing-Metro 19-16.
Castres, the 2013 champions, had a disastrous start, going down 25-22 at home to Stade Francais and then being thumped 35-6 at Toulouse.
But they bounced back with a 30-6 thrashing of Bayonne last weekend.
In Saturday's games, Clermont will attempt to put their recent home troubles behind them when they host Racing, shock 17-10 winners over Top 14 title-holders and European champions Toulon.
Clermont had gone unbeaten at home for almost five years until their 22-16 play-off defeat to Castres last season, and have now lost two of their last three games at the Marcel Michelin.
Last week's matches produced several shocks as four-times European champions Toulouse lost 37-25 at newly-promoted La Rochelle, who had conceded nine tries in a 60-19 mauling at Toulon the previous week.
This weekend La Rochelle travel to Grenoble while Toulouse, whose away form last season was appalling, face a tricky test at Brive.
Toulon host Bordeaux-Begles while Stade Francais will look to bounce back from their surprise 33-6 thrashing at Oyonnax, who travel to second division champions Lyon, at home to Bayonne.
"We know our limitations, but that is no excuse [for the Oyonnax defeat]," said Stade's Argentinean manager Gonzalo Quesada.
"Two wins so far, including one away from home, is far from catastrophic but we also know our potential and we want to show that over 80 minutes."
Fixtures (all times GMT):
Friday, September 4:
Montpellier v Castres (18.45)
Saturday, September 6:
Brive v Toulouse (12.45)
Clermont v Racing-Metro (13.00)
Grenoble v La Rochelle (16.30)
Lyon v Oyonnax (16.30)
Stade Francais v Bayonne (16.30)
Toulon v Bordeaux-Begles (18.45)
French Top 14 table (under headings played, won and points):
Toulon 3 2 9
Toulouse 3 2 9
Clermont 3 2 9
Montpellier 3 2 9
Bordeaux 3 2 8
Racing Metro 3 2 8
Stade Francais 3 2 8
Grenoble 3 1 7
Oyonnax 3 1 6
Castres 3 1 6
Lyon 3 1 5
Brive 3 1 5
Bayonne 3 1 5
La Rochelle 3 1 4