PREVIEW: Racing, Toulon seek Top 14 boost
TOP 14 WEEK NINE: Big-spending Racing 92 and Toulon seek morale-boosting Top 14 wins this weekend after a traumatic fortnight which left their European Cup hopes bruised and battered.
Defending Top 14 champions Racing went down to a 17-27 loss to Leicester in their opening European tie, a week after their scheduled opener at home to Munster was postponed following the death of Anthony Foley.
Three-time European champions Toulon, meanwhile, are struggling to make the quarterfinals of the continent's top club competition after defeat to Saracens and a narrow win at Sale.
In the Top 14, Racing are eighth while Toulon are fourth.
However, at least they should be comforted by knowing that on Saturday they face the bottom two clubs - Racing go to Bayonne while Toulon host Grenoble.
After eight rounds of the Top 14 and two matches in Europe, Racing have yet to win an away match and have claimed just one bonus losing point on their travels despite a squad boasting All Blacks legend Dan Carter.
"We look like we are not the same team when we are playing away from home. We are still looking to click," said coach Laurent Travers.
Racing are also confronting problems with the schedule.
During the November Test series, they will be missing French stars Maxime Machenaud, Wenceslas Laurent, Camille Chat and Eddy Ben Arous.
Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal, meanwhile, lost patience with coach Diego Dominguez and replaced him with Mike Ford, the Englishman who was brought in as backs coach in September.
As a signal of intent, and despite insisting recently that he was ready to walk away from the club he has bankrolled to success, Boudjellal reached for the chequebook to sign England wing Chris Ashton from Saracens.
"Mourad really likes my vision of doing things. To put it simply, he'd like me to create a way of playing which is pleasing to watch," said former Bath coach Ford.
Toulon will be without Welsh fullback Leigh Halfpenny and South African wing Bryan Habana who are away on international duty while a decision on whether or not Japanese fullback Ayumu Goromaru will make his long-awaited debut will be made Friday.
Grenoble, with just two wins from their eight league games, have been buoyed by the return from injury of lock Hendrik Roodt and loose forward forward Rory Grice who will be making their season debuts on Saturday.
Leaders Clermont don't play until Sunday when they travel to Brive so either La Rochelle or Montpellier, who clash 24 hours earlier, could knock them off top spot.
La Rochelle have been the surprise of the season. They sit in second spot, three points behind Clermont after four wins and two draws in their eight games.
Key to their progress has been former All Blacks loose forward forward Victor Vito who won the last of his 33 caps as a late replacement in the World Cup Final win over Australia last year.
"Every day Victor shows why he is a world champion," said La Rochelle coach Patrice Collazo.
"He's a world champion on the pitch, in training, in the dressing room, amongst the players. He pushes them up to his level."
Pau v Toulouse
Montpellier v La Rochelle
Stade Francais v Lyon
Toulon v Grenoble
Bayonne v Racing 92
Castres v Bordeaux-Begles
Brive v Clermont