Stade hoping for Brive respite in Top14

Stade Francais’ faltering hopes of reaching the end of season Top 14 title play-offs face another test this Friday when they travel to improving Brive.


Stade trail sixth-placed and fellow Paris outfit Racing-Metro – who play relegation-threatened Montauban on Saturday – by six points with just five matches of the regular season remaining and with just one away win all campaign hardly travel to Brive in confident mood.


Their squad is also seriously depleted with influential players such as France internationals Mathieu Bastareaud and Dimitri Szarzewski away on Six Nations duty along with England backrow forward James Haskell and the Bergamasco brothers as well.


So short of ammunition are they that former France fly-half Lionel Beauxis is set to play at fullback while Charlie Davies fills in at fly-half alongside scrum-half Ignacio Mieres as Stade battle to avoid missing out on the play-offs, which has happened to them just once, in the 2001/02 season.


Stade’s flamboyant president Max Guazzini was furious beyond belief following last Saturday’s limp display in the 29-0 humbling by Toulouse at the Stade de France and coaches Jacques Delmas and Didier Faugeron have read the riot act to the players that there should be no such repeat.


Delmas, who has won the domestic title before with Perpignan, is clear about what he wants to see from his players and which he says has been lacking in several matches this season.


“I don’t want to see fear in their eyes, which there was against Toulouse, and they have to fight for everything out there on the pitch, otherwise they may as well wave the white flag, because we will come away with nothing,” he said.


While Stade’s decline this season – not helped by overstaffing their front five where they are spoilt for choice but seriously under-staffed in replacement backs and letting Argentinian Juan Martin ‘The Magic Man’ Hernandez go did not help – has been a surprise so too has the revival of Castres.


Having flirted with relegation last term, they find themselves top of the table, down in no small measure to the hiring of joint-head coaches Laurent Labit and Laurent Travers from Montauban.


They face another test of their credentials on Friday with a tough trip to Toulon, who have a formidable home record, not having lost there since Perpignan beat them 32-29 on March 14 last year on their way to the title.


It is a home record that Toulon’s sporting director and former France wing Philippe Saint-Andre is justifiably proud of and wishes to maintain as Toulon fight to retain their top six placing – they are presently fifth 10 points clear of Stade Francais.


“This (the home record) was one of my primary objectives when I arrived here (last summer from English club Sale),” said Saint-Andre.


“I wanted to impress on the players this enduring history of Stade Mayol being a fortress.


“It is easier said than done, but one tries to play an effective style, to be generous in attack, courageous, intelligent and disciplined.”


However, while Saint-Andre is full of praise for Castres, conceding they are a better balanced, more powerful and mature side, he is desperate for his players not to take their foot off the pedal with a play-off place virtually within their grasp.


“Now is not the time to sit back smoke a cigar and relax eating chocolate,” said Saint-Andre.


“We have been in contention for a place in the top six since the beginning of the season and it would be a crying shame to put a spanner in the works with just five games remaining.”


Fixtures:


Friday (1800 GMT kick-offs unless stated):


Toulon v Castres,
Bayonne v Clermont,
Toulouse v Montpellier,
Albi v Bourgoin,
Brive v Stade Francais,
Perpignan v Biarritz (1945)


Saturday (1945):
Montauban v Racing-Metro

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