Stade Francais aiming for the top as Toulon eye Top 14 sur

Stade Francais can provisionally go top of the French championship on Friday and land another blow to big spending Toulon’s chances of survival.

Stade are presently second, two points behind reigning champions Toulouse, but they play Clermont only on Sunday.

The fixture schedule will not have pleased France coach Marc Lievremont as he prepares his side for the gruelling challenge of taking on Six Nations Grand Slam holders Wales next Friday.

Stade will also be looking to make it a losing return to first class rugby for All Black great Tana Umaga, who in a desperate attempt to preserve Toulon’s elite status has decided to not only continue as their coach but also to come out of retirement as a player.

The 35-year-old, who if he retains his job will have former France international wing Philippe Saint Andre as general manager next term, had to get special clearance from New Zealand to get his player’s licence in France but is in the squad for the Stade match.

With or without him, though, the Stade players and coaching staff believe that injury-hit Toulon will be no pushovers despite only having won four of their 16 matches this season and lying just one point above the drop zone.

“This will a special match,” admitted former France international Christophe Dominici, now an assistant coach at Stade.

“They may be low in the championship but they have caused problems to a lot of teams this season and don’t forget they beat Toulouse away.

They will cause us problems too as they are complicated to play against,” he told TV.

Stade could well hand France lock Pascal Pape his first start in eight months after he proved he had recovered from tearing his cruciate ligament in his right knee.

Pape is also aware of the danger posed by Toulon. “It will be a difficult match but it being a home game we cannot afford to slip up,” he said.

Stade will have to probably do without France fly-half Lionel Beauxis, who has a painful groin so Argentine star Juan Martin Hernandez looks set to start at fly-half while Italian trio Sergio Parisse and the Bergamasco brothers, Mauro and Mirco, could well be rested.

Toulon’s latest addition to the injury list is fly-half Tusi Pisi, who was injured in training, and he will be replaced by their most recent recruit South African Conrad Barnard, who will form a halfback pairing with Norman Jordaan, who is returning from injury.

Toulon must hope to get something out of the match as there is a real relegation duel on the programme for Saturday as second from bottom Castres are away to fourth from bottom Dax.

Castres may well welcome back Alexandre Bias after recovering from an ankle injury as well as Rafael Carballo, who was also an ankle injury victim, while Dax will be boosted by France international prop Renaud Boyoud, though, there is a doubt over Laurent Diaz, who has a hand injury.

There is another fascinating relegation battle with bottom side Mont-de-Marsan hosting Bourgoin and victory for the hosts would see them revive their chances of survival whilst dragging their opponents into a real relegation battle.

The visitors will be desperately hoping that France international scrum-half Morgan Parra recovers fully from a chest infection as he is pivotal to their hopes of staying above the relegation dog fight.

(kick-offs GMT)

Friday: (1935)
Stade Francais v Toulon

Saturday: (1330)

Dax v Castres,
Montauban v Montpellier,
Mont-de-Marsan v Bourgoin,
Brive v Biarritz, (1530)
Bayonne v Perpignan

Sunday: (1530)
Toulouse v Clermont

Sapa-AFP –

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