Referee decisions could impact on Top 14

Defending champions Perpignan face the daunting prospect of playing Stade Francais at a packed Stade de France in this weekend’s round of Top 14 matches.


Having rebounded from their shock 9-8 reversal at Treviso with a comprehensive 29-13 victory over Northampton in the European Cup, Perpignan will now have to face a sea of pink at the 80,000-capacity national stadium in Paris.


With a pre-game line-up including a demonstration of masked Mexican wrestlers, an aging French rock star and pom-pom girls, Stade will be hoping to improve on their sixth place in the standings, six points adrift of their fourth-placed visitors.


Stade hooker Dimitri Szarzewski acknowledged that playing in the European Cup and Top14 were different prospects.


“In the European Cup, you have to play at your utmost both at home and away. As there are fewer penalties blown, the pace is more sustained,” he told L’Equipe newspaper.


“There are lots of turnovers and long parts of the game that goes through multi-phase play.


“In the European Cup, the approach to matches is not the same because we don’t know the opponents or their gameplans as well,” said the hooker whose Stade side have notched up two European wins so far over Bath (29-27) and Edinburgh (31-7).


Perpignan coach Jacques Brunel added: “Our problem coming back to the Top 14 will be to make as few faults as possible and that the refereeing allows us to play as we do in the European Cup.”


The weekend’s other headline game sees fifth-placed Toulouse hosting Biarritz, in third one point adrift of Castres and two points off current leaders Clermont.


Toulouse coach Guy Noves hailed the performances of French clubs in last weekend’s European games and warned of a hostile reception for the Basque team.


“Like Biarritz, we’re sure to have a squad that wants to give nothing away. We showed that in the second-half against Harlequins,” he said.


“The boys are in form at the moment. Whether they want to accelerate the game or slow it down they’re capable of it.


“When you see Biarritz’s performance against Gloucester (42-15 winners), we know what to expect.”


Noves said that Biarritz, bolstered by the return of veterans Imanol Harinordoquy, Fabien Barcella and Dimitri Yachvili as well as the electric form of US winger Takudzwa Ngwenya, were enjoying a “quality season”, on a run of seven consecutive victories.


“They’re coming in a bid to notch up an eighth. It’s up to us to remain unbeaten on our pitch as we did last season and have done so far this one,” Noves said.


“We know Biarritz – they’re a team we know very well which has great potential and a great spirit. Matches will always be of a good quality between us. It remains a pleasure to play them knowing that the battle will be tough.”


Clermont travel to Montpellier, one place off the bottom of the table, while the Jonny Wilkinson-fired Toulon entertain Bourgoin.


Montauban host bottom club Albi while Racing Metro play away at Brive, with Bayonne meeting Castres in Friday’s fixture.


Fixtures


Friday


Bayonne v Castres


Saturday


Toulouse v Biarritz,
Montpellier v Clermont,
Toulon v Bourgoin,
Montauban v Albi,
Brive v Racing-Metro,
Stade Francais v Perpignan

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