Understrength Clermont to face Bordeaux in Top14

Second-placed Clermont will be shorn of a raft of players on international duty when they host ever-dangerous Bordeaux-Begles in Top 14 action on Friday.

After being edged by Stade Francais last week, Raphael Ibanez’s Bordeaux have it all to play for in the race for a place in the top six, who go on to compete in the end-of-season elite play-offs.

Clermont are neck-and-neck with defending champions Toulon at the top of the table on 57 points, followed by Stade Francais (55) and their Parisian rivals Racing-Metro (51).

After that, the competition really hots up, with Oyonnax, Toulouse and Bordeaux all on 45 points, and Grenoble (43) and Montpellier (42) still in the mix for what will likely be the final two places in the play-offs.

Bordeaux have what looks like a relatively sympathetic run-in to the end of the season: after Clermont, they host La Rochelle, and are then away to Castres and Lyon, before entertaining Oyonnax and Bayonne, rounding off away to Toulouse.

What Ibanez will be hoping for is a flying start at Clermont, who will be without France internationals Benjamin Kayser, Damien Chouly, Camille Lopez, Wesley Fofana and Vincent Debaty, all likely to feature against Italy in the Six Nations, and Wales centre Jonathan Davies. And playmaker Morgan Parra is injured.

Clermont full-back Jean-Marcellin Buttin said his teammates’ absence allowed others to step up.

“It’s a lot (of players away), but it remains positive for the club to provide players for the national team, it’s good for everyone,” Buttin said.

“While it’s a little more complicated when matches are doubled up, it’s the chance for the club’s youngsters to step up and shine.”

Buttin predicted no repeat of the 51-29 victory Clermont scored against Bordeaux earlier this season.

“Bordeaux will need points, like us, and they must now go looking for them in away matches, and why not at Clermont?” he said.

“I think this match will be much tighter than the first time out… It’ll be hard fought up front and tight because everyone needs points.”

Toulon travel to Lyon on Saturday looking to consolidate their position at the top of the table, while Stade Francais host Grenoble and Racing-Metro are away at Brive.

Montpellier play at Toulouse in the day’s early match in the hope that France fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc makes his comeback from injury.

It would be his first appearance since breaking his leg in October.

“I hope Francois will be able to take part in the match, either as a replacement or in the starting line-up and I hope he’ll be able to add something to the team,” the club’s South African coach Jake White said.

With Montpellier currently ninth in the table, their match against Toulouse could prove crucial for their qualification for the season’s final stages.

Bottom club Castres travel to Bayonne (10th) in another must-win encounter with the five clubs below Montpellier all within four points of each other.

But Castres will be missing a cast of several key players: Richie Gray, Piula Faasalele, Remi Lamerat, Geoffrey Palis and Yannick Forestier are all injured, the first two until the end of the season.

Remi Tales has been released by France and will play, but scrum-half Rory Kockott and No 8 Johnnie Beattie have been included in the Six Nations squad for France and Scotland respectively.

Saturday

Toulouse v Montpellier (1345),
Bayonne v Castres,
Brive v Racing-Metro,
La Rochelle v Oyonnax,
Stade Francais v Grenoble (all 1730),
Lyon v Toulon (1945)

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