Toulouse to face understrength Stade in Top14

Heineken Cup Rugby champions Toulouse go into their third round match of the French championship on Saturday hoping to return to winning ways after a surprise defeat at Castres last weekend.


The Toulousains are at home to early Top 14 leaders Stade Francais in a match that promises fireworks in spite of the fact that the visitors have made wholesale changes to the side that has beaten Bourgoin and La Rochelle, two of the weaker teams in the league.


Stade’s sporting director Michael Cheika has chosen to leave out a host of international players in order to rest them for next Wednesday’s home match against Castres.


Forwards Dimitri Szarzewski, Sergio Parisse, Julien Dupuy, Rodrigo Roncero and Tom Palmer are all on the bench along with backs Lionel Beauxis and Mathieu Bastareaud. Lock Pascal Pape and wing Julien Arias are not even making the trip.


“It is in the spirit of the game to have two competitive sides, we have to do it,” said Cheika.


“We cannot buy this second team so we have to take advantage of occasions such as this.”


Toulouse, who have still not been able to intregrate their full compliment of international players after the summer break, will not be complaining about the absence of so many of the Stade pack as they were shunted around mercilessly in their 22-16 defeat by Castres.


The other big match of the weekend sees another Paris side heading south, in this case Racing-Metro heading down to the port city of Toulon for what could be a Friday night feast.


Toulon lost their season opener at home to Bayonne but bounced back with a 13-3 win at last season’s European Cup finalists Biarritz, a game which saw their Brit-pack come to the fore.


Fly-half Jonny Wilkinson was back to his guiding best behind the pack, banging over a conversion, penalty and drop goal but it was another Englishman, lock forward Kris Chesney, who scored the try and stole the plaudits.


England wing Paul Sackey is also showing signs of settling in well with a side that has genuine ambitions of winning the title this year.


Racing-Metro are also contenders although the manner of their 36-19 capitulation against Fabien Galthie’s Montpellier side suggest that this may be a season too early for them.


“It is not enough to have a good team on paper to win matches,” their French international number eight Sebastien Chabal told AFP.


“Bayonne beat Toulon because of their desire. Rugby goes like that. But Toulon will still have a big presence in the Top 14.


“In losing to Montpellier, we went back under our cloud. We really went there with big hopes of winning. So we must look at things again.


“We have been trying things with one eye on the long term and maybe forgetting about the present.”


Chabal, who hands over the captain’s armband to regular skipper Lionel Nallet, belives Racing’s problem comes down to consistency.


“The problem is that we are not imposing ourselves on the game,” he said.


“We are happy to play at the level of the opposition. We have never taken a big spanking but we have lost matches against lesser teams that we ought never to have lost.


“We have not been able to maintain the same standard of play against every team we meet.”


Along with Stade, Bayonne are the only other side to have won both of their opening games. That unbeaten record will come under a severe test when they host Castres.


Fixtures


Friday
Toulon v Racing-Metro (1700GMT)


Saturday

(all 1430GMT unless stated)
Agen v Biarritz, La Rochelle v Bourgoin, Clermont v Brive, Castres v Bayonne, Perpignan v Montpellier, Toulouse v Stade Francais (1845 GMT)

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