Toulon hand Michalak No.10 keys
Toulon hand Michalak No.10 keysSHARE
The club versus country debate is highlighted under the full glare of an expectant public and live television on Friday when Montpellier entertain league leaders Toulon in the French Top 14.
With Jonny Wilkinson being rested after injuring his neck in Toulon's impressive 42-12 victory over Bordeaux-Begles last week, Frederic Michalak will start at flyhalf, likely playing opposite France incumbent Francois Trinh-Duc.
Michalak's days in the No.10 shirt in Toulon since returning from a second stint with the Sharks in South Africa have been limited, the former Toulouse stalwart instead appearing at scrumhalf.
The star-studded Toulon squad, coached by former France handler Bernard Laporte, features a backline controlled by Wilkinson, with Australian playmaker Matt Giteau also adept in the flyhalf role.
Michalak's utility role is seen as invaluable by Laporte, but is not something that will necessarily enhance his chances at nailing down a berth at No.10 in the France squad coached by Philippe Saint-Andre.
"I have a squad to manage, not the France team," said Laporte. "I know full well the expectations of a coach, but Saint-Andre also knows the demands of a club. There's no polemic.
"Frederic will play flyhalf, but I will decide when and where, in tandem with my staff and players," added Laporte, who arguably got the best out of Michalak at international level especially in the 2003 World Cup where he was outstanding until he fell to pieces in the semi-final against Wilkinson and eventual champions England.
With Trinh-Duc and another France hopeful Lionel Beauxis failing to make their mark so far this season, and Racing-Metro's in-form Jonathan Wisniewski ruled out for several months with a herniated disc, the 54-time capped Michalak has a window to again showcase his evident talents ahead of the year-end internationals.
Biarritz, in second spot a point adrift of Toulon in the table, travel to Castres on the back of four wins from their opening four outings.
Fresh from dominating Montpellier 27-8, Biarritz have refound a cutting edge that deserted them last season, which was spent flirting with relegation.
Defending Top 14 champions Toulouse travel to Spain for their away game, to Perpignan.
The Catalan club decided to relocate their match to the 55,000-seater Monjuic Stadium in Barcelona, although USAP president Paul Goze is only expecting a crowd of between 25-30,000.
"The conditions are not the same as in 2010," Goze said of the 52,000-strong crowd that witnessed Biarritz's European Cup quarterfinal against Toulon in April of that year.
"It's not a knock-out match, it's less easy to attract people, the economic crisis is there and yet more in Spain."
In other matches, Agen and bottom-placed Mont-de-Marsan will be seeking first wins with daunting home matches against Grenoble and Clermont.
Bayonne host Racing-Metro, with the French capital's other club Stade Francais travelling to Bordeaux-Begles in the late game.
Friday, September 14 (all times GMT): Montpellier v Toulon (18.50)
Saturday, September 15: Perpignan v Toulouse (13.00), Agen v Grenoble, Bayonne v Racing-Metro, Castres v Biarritz, Mont-de-Marsan v Clermont (all 16.00), Bordeaux-Begles v Stade Francais (18.40).