PREVIEW: Under-fire Toulon face tough Toulouse test
TOP 14 WEEK FOUR: Under-fire Toulon will undergo a true test of their mettle when they host Toulouse in Top 14 action this weekend, while defending champions Racing 92 face a daunting trip to Clermont.
Brive, surprise leaders after the opening three rounds of the new season, travel to rock-bottom Grenoble on Sunday aiming to leave their hosts with four defeats from four.
Toulon might boast an expensively-assembled star-studded line-up and a bench that most clubs can but only dream, but outspoken President Mourad Boudjellal did not hold back after last week's 21-25 home defeat by Brive.
"The reality is that we should have had three losses," blasted Boudjellal, his side having scraped a second round victory over Pau, having gone down to newly-promoted Bayonne in their opening games.
"Up against three teams who say they're playing to stay up, we should have had three defeats, that's what's most worrying.
"I concluded from that, that we're not at the level of staying up.
"We have four matches ahead of us. You can't dream. It's going to be heavy and the team I saw here will pay badly.
"The players need to take responsibility. It's not the coaches who make mistakes on the pitch. We're nearing the end of my patience.
"Training is over. Now we have to move on to serious things.
"That doesn't necessarily mean I'm going to fire the coaches. I can fire myself.
"That we can muck up almost eight years in one match, it's shameful. From what we've seen, we're playing to stay up. A team with 800 international caps that's playing to stay up, that's the reality. Quite simply, I think we're awful.
"Luckily, and I've thanked him, we have [goal-kicking Wales fullback Leigh] Halfpenny. I've rarely seen my team play so badly."
Toulon received further bad news when one of their star players, South African flank Juan Smith, was ruled out of action for four months after rupturing his left biceps against Brive.
His absence follows that of Australian wing Drew Mitchell and South African Bryan Habana, away on international duty, with the injury list already including James O'Connor, Anthony Etrillard, Matt Giteau, Ayumu Goromaru, Duane Vermeulen and Jean-Charles Orioli.
Toulouse playmaker Toby Flood, the former England flyhalf, suggested that his team needed to move the ball around against Toulon, the three-time European champions.
"We've only scored three tries this season, it's something we have to improve on," he said, warning not to underestimate Boudjellal's team.
"It's complicated at Toulon at the moment, they might change manager after three matches, but that changes nothing, it's Toulon, the best team over the last four or five years.
"They're really strong, they can play anywhere and have talented players. If we think they're going to be trembling, that they're already beaten, we've already lost the match."
Wallaby veteran Adam Ashley-Cooper is set to put his Bledisloe Cup woes behind him and hit the Top 14 season running against Bayonne on Saturday to go some way to appeasing his disgruntled Bordeaux-Begles club president.
Laurent Marti was left upset when Ashley-Cooper returned to Australia to play in the two opening Rugby Championship Tests against New Zealand, the All Blacks coming out convincing winners, 42-8 and 29-9.
It meant the utility back, capped 114 times by the Wallabies, missed Bordeaux-Begles' opening three games, his side having snuck past Racing 92 in their opener before going down to Toulouse and Montpellier.
"He was disappointed because when I originally signed at the end of 2014 the rules were that if I'd signed with a French club I wasn't allowed to go back and play," he said.
"Obviously I went back to Australia to compete in the Bledisloe ... I've put that behind me now because I'm back here and my priority and focus is now with Bordeaux-Begles."
Stade Francais v Castres
Bordeaux-Begles v Bayonne
La Rochelle v Lyon
Montpellier v Pau
Clermont v Racing 92
Grenoble v Brive
Toulouse v Toulon