Castres & Perpignan set to clash in Top 14

Castres and French champions Perpignan meet on Friday in a mouthwatering clash that will see either the former stay atop the French rugby championship standings or see their opponents leapfrog them into the lead.

Castres, who beat Bayonne 15-6 away last Friday, are the somewhat surprising leaders after seven matches of the campaign, following a disappointing season last year which saw them battle against relegation, and lead Perpignan by two points.

Castres, three time champions – the last time back in 1993 – have been revitalised under the stewardship of former Montauban coaching duo Laurent Travers and Laurent Labit since they arrived in the close season.

They will be boosted for the tricky trip to Perpignan by the return to fitness of exciting centre Romain Cabannes, who has recovered from a hamstring injury, but are still without fellow centre Pierre-Emmanuel Garcia, South African prop Michael Coetzee and scrum-half Alexandre Albouy.

Labit puts the turnaround in the club’s fortunes down to changing the mentality of the players who remained there from last season and the influx of new blood, they brought four alone from Montauban.

“We found a group of players that were posing a lot of questions about themselves and lacking in self belief,” he said.

“Thus we worked on that to start with and then we decided to reduce the squad from what it was last season. We let go 17 and brought only 11 in and it seems to have worked so far.

“However, we are not even halfway through the season and will only start to assess how we are doing after the first half of the matches are gone. Plus we have tricky games coming up away this Friday and then at home to both Clermont and Toulouse.”

Perpignan come into the match in sparkling form having seen off Stade Francais at a packed out 80,000 Stade de France last Saturday and refreshed by several stars having recovered from injuries.

Nicolas Durand, former England international Perry Freshwater, Olivier Olibeau, Romanian Ovidiu Tonita and Greg Le Corvec are all available for selection.

Perpignan coach Jacques Brunel said there was a lot to be taken from their performance against Stade Francais and that could be built on.

“There was a lot to be happy about from the win,” said Brunel, formerly part of the French coaching backroom staff under Bernard Laporte.

“It wasn’t so much the fact we won but the nature of our game and how we played and it is important to build on that.”

Clermont, perennial title challengers but unable ever to actually win the crown, losing to Perpignan in last season’s final, can also go top should they beat Stade Francais at home depending on the result between the top two as they are equal on points with Perpignan.

Clermont, though, will have to be far better than they were in their away defeat to Montpellier last Saturday and will be without international prop Thomas Domingo, who is out for three weeks after picking up an injury against Montpellier.

Clermont captain Aurelien Rougerie is hopeful that the defeat will have acted as a wake up call to him and his team-mates.

“That has given us a small slap which will allow us to keep our feet on the ground,” said Rougerie, who was one of three Clermont players left out of the France squad this week because they pulled out of the summer tour of the southern hemisphere.

Stade – who will be without France fly-half Lionel Beauxis – will also be looking to get back on the winning track and avoid slipping further back in the pack from the leaders.

Elsewhere, Brive will hope that the turbulent past few weeks off the pitch will be at an end after former manager Laurent Seigne followed the club’s honorary president Patrick Sebastien out of the club earlier this week – they travel to Bourgoin, who are a place above them.

Fixtures (time in GMT):


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