Clermont chasing Toulon
Clermont chasing ToulonSHARE
Clermont will look to keep up the pressure on Top 14 leaders Toulon when they host Montpellier on Saturday.
Vern Cotter's men have been in outstanding form of late, scoring back-to-back wins over Leinster in the European Cup and hammering Bayonne 48-3 last Sunday as the second half of the domestic season got underway.
But despite their run of wins, the gap between themselves and Toulon at the top stubbornly remains at seven points, with champions Toulouse hanging on a further three points adrift.
Clermont were rocked in midweek with the news that veteran international wing/centre Aurelien Rougerie will be out for six weeks after suffering a badly sprained ankle against Bayonne.
But there was better news for the pack as France loosehead prop Thomas Domingo is available again after being sidelined in early December with a knee ligament injury.
"I think the match that we will have on Saturday [against Montpellier] will be at a higher level than we had in the game against Bayonne, especially in the physical domain," said Cotter.
"Montpellier are very strong in the rucks and in defence and they can hand us a lot of problems.
"We need to be very focussed and controlled and be ready for a difficult and testing challenge."
Montpellier, coming off an impressive 54-16 thumping of Stade Francais, are currently in fifth place, two points back off fourth-placed Castres.
There was injury news from Toulouse also as back row forward Gillian Galan has been ruled out for up to two months after injuring his left knee in the narrow win at Castres last weekend.
But Guy Noves' squad should prove too strong for bottom side Mont-de-Marsan who have won just once all season to date.
Veteran centre Yannick Jauzion said the win over Castres could provide a perfect launchpad for the second half of the season.
"That win will help us build up our confidence – the two aspects go together," he said.
"We can still do better and we have our chances both in the short and long term, especially in the European Cup. We just have to be sure of ourselves mentally."
League leaders Toulon are not in action until Sunday and they will be looking to continue their winning ways when they take on struggling Racing Metro at the Stade Mayol.
Bernard Laporte's men have been in superb form of late trouncing Sale 62-0 in the European Cup before hammering Perpignan 46-13 on Sunday.
Back in the mix comes France international fly-half Frederic Michalak, but he is far from sure of starting given the form currently being shown by England legend Jonny Wilkinson.
Racing Metro meanwhile could welcome back talented fly-half Jonathan Wisniewski, who has been out of action since early September when he sustained a serious back injury playing against Clermont.
"I have got the same ambitions that I had at the start of the season before I was injured," he said. "I just want to give it my best and go all out."
In other matches Saturday Castres travel to Grenoble for a tough assignment, while Perpignan host Bordeaux and Stade Francais look to rebound with a home game against Bayonne.
Friday's match sees mid-table Biarritz take on Agen at home.
Top 14 fixtures:
Friday, January 4: Biarritz v Agen
Saturday, January 5: Clermont v Montpellier, Perpignan v Bordeaux, Stade Francais v Bayonne, Grenoble v Castres, Mont-de-Marsan v Toulouse
Sunday, January 6: Toulon v Racing Metro