Clermont look to upset Castres n Top14 Rugby

Top 14 leaders Clermont will seek to ride out a raft of injuries as they travel this weekend to Castres, unbeaten at home this season, ahead of what promises to be a daunting European Cup campaign.


But Vern Cotter’s expensively assembled, multi-national side face a Castres team that, although having lost former All Black No 8 Chris Masoe to league rivals Toulon, have not been beaten at home by Clermont in 36 years.


Castres, one of the surprise packages of the Top 14 last season, have also racked up more than 30 points over allcomers to their Pierre Antoine stadium this season, something not lost on Clermont forwards coach Franck Azema.


“We’re looking at this match as a real test,” Azema said. “Castres are an outfit used to play-offs.


“They’ve been able to build thanks to a real stability among their backroom staff and playing personnel.


“Even if some players have left and other come in, they’ve managed a smooth continuity and know how to adapt themselves and bring the best out of the squad.”


Azema added that a run-out against Castres would be ideal timing ahead of the European Cup, in which they’ve been drawn in a tough group alongside Irish reigning champions Leinster, doughty English Premiership outfit Exeter and Welsh region Scarlets.


“Of course it’s an excellent way of preparing for our clash against Scarlets,” Azema said of their October 13 match-up at home against the Llanelli-based club.


“We’ll have a very tough team up against us who will pose us problems. It’ll be up to us to find solutions. It will also prepare us for the level of combat that awaits us in a complicated European pool.”


Castres hooker Brice Mach, making his comeback after treatement for thyroid cancer, said remaining unbeaten at home had been one of the squad’s targets at the start of the season.


“The team wants to act like the head of the household,” Mach said of Castres, who travel to Ulster for their opening European Cup match on October 12, with Glasgow and Northampton making up their group.


“These matches give us confidence and we must approach them very seriously.


“Up until now, it’s smiled on us because we have put in all the necessary ingredients. Come Friday, we’ll have to be vigilant and snuff out the opponents from the off.”


Clermont will be without centre Aurelien Rougerie (back) and wing Napolioni Nalaga (ribs), while prop Vincent Debaty (leg) and lock Jamie Cudmore (thigh) are also doubtful.


But South African flanker Gerhard Vosloo, who has been out since last April after a groin operation, is expected to return.


Scrum-half Morgan Parra will also be missing because he has holidays to take after playing 505 of the 560 minutes played by the team since the beginning of the season.


Toulon, second in the table on points difference to Clermont, travel to fourth-placed Biarritz in Saturday’s early game.


Defending champions Toulouse, seven points adrift of Clermont and Toulon in third, play away at Bordeaux-Begles.


Mont-de-Marsan, rooted to the bottom of the table without a win in seven outings, host Stade Francais, fellow Parisian outfit Racing-Metro host Montpellier, Bayonne entertain Agen, and Perpignan travel to Grenoble.


Fixtures (all times GMT)


Friday


Castres v Clermont (1850)


Saturday


Biarritz v Toulon (1300),
Bayonne v Agen,
Grenoble v Perpignan,
Mont-de-Marsan v Stade Francais,
Racing-Metro v Montpellier (all 1630),
Bordeaux-Begles v Toulouse (1845)

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