Toulouse to face Stade in Top 14 Rugby

Top 14 leaders Toulouse travel to the Stade de France this weekend for a clash against a Stade Francais team desperate for a victory in their bid to book a play-off berth.


Stade last week picked up a crucial bonus-point 53-27 win over Agen, direct rivals for the sixth and final spot in the play-offs, with just four matches remaining in the regulation season after this weekend’s round.


Relocating to the Stade de France for the seventh time in the history of these two clubs, fans will be treated to Irish tap dancing, pom-pom girls, a Rolling Stones tribute band and a parade of people dressed in traditional Celtic costumes.


But Toulouse second-row Yoann Maestri said the visitors, who suffered a shock one-point defeat by Bordeaux last weekend, would have their eyes firmly set on the game and not the distractions that come with playing at the Parisian stadium.


“We’re completely focused on this match,” the France international said. “It’ll be a tough match. We had a lot of trouble winning this season’s home match against them (18-15).


“And Stade are in a very confident mood, something we saw on the weekend when they played a great game against Agen.


“When we play games like these, we are above all concentrated on what happens on the paddock, on the match itself. The rest we leave for the fans to enjoy. But in any case, to play a Top 14 match in such a stadium is a good thing for rugby.”


Stade Francais will be boosted by the presence in the back row of Australia’s most capped player George Smith, who joins on a short-term contract fresh from having won the Japanese championship with Suntory Sungoliath.


“I’m in better condition than when I played at Toulon,” Smith said of his one season with Stade’s Top 14 rivals in southern France in 2010.


“I’m coming off the back of an excellent season in Japan, a championship where you play one of the fastest games. I’m ready to put together a string of games, no problem.”


Second-placed Clermont travel to Biarritz, for whom former France international utility back Damien Traille will miss the next two games because of a left foot injury.


The 32-year-old, capped 86 times and a member of the side that lost 8-7 to New Zealand in last year’s World Cup final, suffered the injury in last Saturday’s 34-17 Top 14 victory over Lyon, which eased his team’s relegation worries.


Biarritz’s neighbours Bayonne, sitting second bottom ahead of only Lyon, face a crucial relegation dogfight at Perpignan, who themselves are just a point ahead of the Basque club.


Bayonne’s France flanker Julien Puricelli said his team’s aim was simple: “It’s to win. We saw what Perpignan did at Clermont (losing 29-23). They took a bonus point but could have won.


“We must give our all over these last five matches. We’re relieved to have won last Saturday because it extended our chances but we know full well that that will not be enough to keep us up.”


Racing-Metro host Castres in Friday’s game looking to close the three-point gap between them and both Montpellier and Stade Francais.


Saturday’s other matches include Lyon entertaining Bordeaux-Begles, Brive hosting Toulon, and Agen travelling to Montpellier.


Fixtures


Friday


Racing-Metro v Castres


Saturday


Biarritz v Clermont,
Perpignan v Bayonne,
Lyon v Bordeaux-Begles,
Brive v Toulon,
Montpellier v Agen,
Stade Francais v Toulouse

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