Stade Francais eye chance to lead Top 14 again

Stade Francais will have the chance to go back top of the French Top 14 table when they take on struggling Castres in Paris on Friday.

But even if they win, their lead might not last too long as current leaders Clermont and reigning champions Toulon, who are in third place, both have home games the following day.

Only four points separate the top four teams with Stade’s Paris rivals Racing-Metro also well in the mix.

Stade were leading the way in France before last weekend but were stunned at lowly Lyon when South African fly-half Morne Steyn was sent off for kicking out at Fijian winger Mosese Ratuvou.

Steyn was subsequently suspended for two weeks and he will miss the visit of Castres, who moved off the bottom of the ladder with a 30-15 home win over La Rochelle last weekend.

Stade’s Fiji winger Waisea Vuidravuwalu, seven tries already this season, is a doubt having missed training on Wednesday due to a swollen ankle.

Pierre Rabadan, Hugo Bonneval, Laurent Sempéré, Aled de Malmanche, Jér??me Fillol and Gerhard Mostert are all out with long-standing injuries.

“Apart from that we have everyone available,” said Stade’s backs coach Jean-Frederic Dubois.

Julien Tomas and Jules Plisson are expected to be the half-backs, while Heinke Van der Merwe, Rémi Bonfils and Rabah Slimani look set for front-row duty.

Toulon, who have lost their last two games — against Stade Francais and last weekend at Montpellier — are well-placed to end that losing run with a home game against Racing-Metro.

Coach Bernard Laporte will have Australian utility back Matt Giteau back in the reckoning for the first time since late October when he picked up a groin injury playing a European Cup tie against Ulster.

Also back from injury is French international scrum-half Sebastien Tillous-Borde.

Springbok winger Bryan Habana, who is considering staying on for an extra year at Toulon said that the Racing-Metro game would be a big challenge no matter what.

“Whether you are playing away or at home you need to play very well if you want to win in this league,” he said.

“Racing have just won at home and will be coming to Toulon to win again. They are just a couple of points behind us and we have a lot of respect for them.

“But we are on home turf and we need to put in a good showing this weekend.”

Clermont, impressive 24-6 winners over struggling Toulouse last weekend, welcome Brive to their Auvergne stronghold with coach Franck Azema enjoying a clean bill of health for once.

Brive coach Nicolas Godignon said that the win over Bayonne had given his side a big boost as it meant they had 31 points, matching their haul at the same time last season.

“It’s encouraging and it could have been even better for us, but there is still much to be done even if we are currently in ninth position,” he said.

“We need to continue to progress and that will not be easy this weekend as we do not have the easiest of games.”

In other matches Grenoble travel to Bordeaux with both teams looking to get into the top six bracket, Toulouse host La Rochelle in desparate need of a win, Oyannax are at home to Montpellier and Bayonne welcome Lyon.

Fixtures (all times GMT):

Friday

Stade Francais v Castres (1945)

Saturday

Toulon v Racing-Metro (1345),
Bordeaux v Grenoble,
Toulouse v La Rochelle,
Oyannax v Montpellier,
Bayonne v Lyon (all 1730),
Clermont v Brive (1945)

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