Stade Francais & Clermont to clash in Top 14

Stade Francais and Clermont will battle it out for prime position in France’s Top 14 on Saturday, but both will be understrength due to international obligations.

The Paris outfit currently lead the way going deep into the second half of the season, but they are just two points ahead of Clermont and eight clear of sixth-placed Toulouse.

The odds will be stacked against Stade as they have never won in the Auvergne and Clermont are on a run of 71 matches unbeaten at home.

But with several players on Six Nations international duty, Clermont were comfortably defeated 18-9 by lowly Bayonne two weeks ago and they will be similarly hit this coming weekend with France playing Italy.

Clermont backs coach Franck Azema, who will take over from head coach Vern Cotter in the summer, said that there had been much frustration after the Bayonne defeat, but that wholesale changes had not been considered.

“We just were not ourselves at Bayonne and we came away from that match with a lot of frustration,” he said.

“There could be 50 excuses we could come up with – a let-down after the European games, tiredness – I don’t know.

“But at the end of the day, our team was hardly recognisable at Bayonne and we have to do something about that.

“I don’t want to start making comparisons between different teams and the players they have that are unavailable (due to international duty).

“I am just saying that we have to make do with some of our top players at key moments of the season.”

Stade’s Fijian winger Waisea Vuidravuwalu said recent wins, like the 32-6 thrashing of Castres two weeks ago, had meant that confidence was flowing back through the side.

“Our statistics are good and we are pulling off some fine wins,” he said.

“We are full of confidence over the last few games we have played and we are confident of where we are going.

“Clermont are a fine side, but if we continue to play the way we know we can and stay focused on what we want to achieve I think we can pull off something down there.”

In other games, third-place Castres will look to rebound from their heavy defeat to Stade Francais by despatching second-from-bottom Oyonnax, who were idle two weeks ago when their game with Biarritz was postponed.

But once again they will be badly hit by players being away on international duty – notably French trio Brice Dulin, Yannick Forestier and Ibrahim Diarra as well as Scottish pair Max Evans and Richie Gray.

On the plus side for the reigning Top 14 champions, both Antonie Claassen and Pedrie Wannenburg will be available for selection.

Grenoble, who moved up to fourth with a defeat of Perpignan in the last round of games, travel to Bordeaux on Friday evening, while Montpellier and Toulouse, respectively fifth and sixth, will face off in the late game on Saturday.

European champions Toulon, who have slipped out of the play-off zone, have a chance to edge back into the picture with a home game against bottom side Biarritz.

Fixtures (1730 GMT unless stated)


Bordeaux-Begles v Grenoble (1945 GMT)


Clermont v Stade Francais (1330 GMT),
Bayonne v Brive,
Castres v Oyonnax,
Perpignan v Racing-Metro,
Toulon v Biarritz,
Toulouse v Montpellier (1935 GMT)

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