PREVIEW: Toulon, Racing zoom in on Top 14 amid cocaine drama

Fri, 03 Mar 2017 09:23
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TOP 14, WEEK 19: Champions Racing 92 and Toulon return to Top 14 action this weekend insisting their focus remains on their play-off battle following a turbulent week overshadowed by a cocaine scandal.

French police charged Racing's All Black Ali Williams with buying cocaine in Paris last weekend and Toulon's Australian international James O'Connor with possession of the drug.

The pair has been suspended by their clubs who are both involved in fierce battles to make the end of season play-offs.

"Despite all that has been written and said recently. We were, we are and we will be united," Racing 92 hooker Dimitri Szarzewski wrote on Twitter.

Toulon are fifth in the league - inside the top six play-off spots - but Racing are just one point behind in seventh.

Racing are keen to put the latest incident in a testing season after their title triumph last year behind them.

Most recently, two-time World Cup winner Dan Carter was caught drink-driving in Paris.

He is also involved in an ongoing probe into the use of corticosteroids, along with fellow All Black Joe Rokocoko and Argentine wing Juan Imhoff.

Carter has been overlooked for Saturday's game at struggling Grenoble.

Three-time European champions Toulon travel to Brive without new Australian recruit Ben Barba, a former rugby league standout.

27-year-old Barba tested positive for cocaine in 2015 and again last year in Australia and was suspended by former club Cronulla Sharks, before arriving in France last month.

But Toulon have been boosted by the return of France international flyhalf François Trinh-Duc after four months out with a broken arm.

In-form La Rochelle - sitting second but equal on 58 points with leaders Clermont - travel to Toulouse on Sunday looking for a first win at their south-western rivals.

Toulouse beat Clermont at home in December, but lost to Pau last month and have been out of form in recent games.

La Rochelle are coming off eight straight wins with just two defeats in 13 matches and want a first success in 'The Pink City', as they target a first qualification for the Top 14 play-offs.

Clermont travel to Castres - 11 points adrift in fourth - as third-placed Montpellier have scrumhalf Benoît Paillaugue and South African Bismarck Du Plessis back for their trip to Lyon.

"It's going to change the profile and dynamic of the team. We count on them," said Montpellier's Cameroonian lock Robins Tchale-Watchou of the pair who were instrumental in last year's European Challenge Cup success.

29-year-old Paillaugue underwent ankle and shoulder surgery as Springbok Du Plessis tore a pectoral muscle in September.

"His (Paillaugue) return is important for our game, for the group as well," said captain Fulgence Ouedraogo. "He has an imposing presence and communicates a lot with the forwards. He knows what he wants and how to get it,"

Ireland's James Coughlan is back for Pau after being stretchered off against Lyon as they look for a seventh straight win at tailenders Bayonne.

Stade Francais - the 2015 champions - floundering in 11th position host Bordeaux-Begles on Sunday.

Fixtures:

Saturday:

Castres v Clermont
Grenoble v Racing 92
Bayonne v Pau
Brive v Toulon

Sunday:

Lyon v Montpellier
Stade Francais v Bordeaux-Begles
Toulouse v La Rochelle

Agence France-Presse