Top 14 Round 16: Preview
Racing Metro host league leaders Toulouse at the Stade de France in this weekend's standout Top 14 fixture.
Last Updated: 27/01/12 12:22pm
Defending champions Toulouse will look to extend their lead at the summit of the Top 14 when they play Racing Metro at the Stade de France on Saturday.
Toulouse boss Guy Noves has promised that he will play no more than three of his squad that are also in France's Six Nations party, with no players who will start for Les Bleus expected to travel.
Neves will nevertheless be able to line up a formidable side with in-form centre Florian Fritz out to prove a point after missing out on the Six Nations squad.
Racing, who are in the centre of the battle for play-off qualification, will be boosted by the return of Frans Steyn and have seen the last two clashes with Toulouse in Paris go their way.
The Round 16 action gives off on Friday night, however, when Stade Francais travel to Montpellier in what could be a vital clash in the race for the play-off spots.
Stade Francais have been in a rich vein of try-scoring form but have the worst defensive record in the league, while Montpellier have conceded only 19 tries in 15 games.
Both teams go into the match on a hot run of form having each won five of their last six matches.
Six Nations internationals Dimitri Szarzewski, Pascal Pape, David Attoub and Sergio Parisse are available for the visitors but Felipe Contepomi is doubtful.
On Saturday Brive, currently lying just one point clear of the relegation zone, host Perpignan, who are only three points ahead of them in a crucial clash for both teams' survival hopes.
Brive are in free fall having slipped five championship places in the last eight rounds and having not tasted victory in seven starts dating back to late October.
But the hosts will take encouragement from their last two home games against the Catalan side, winning 26-11 last year and 29-9 in 2009.
Fourth-placed Castres would appear to be clear favourites to get the better of relegation-threatened Biarritz, but the Basque side seem to have finally found some form in recent weeks.
Biarittz's away win over Agen lifted them out of the relegation zone while Castres' form has been a bit shaky lately, having won just once in their last seven Top 14 matches
Castres have been bolstered by the return of prop Luc Ducalcon, who has not been included in France's team to face Italy.
Biarritz will be without the injured Charles Gimenez, and possibly hooker Romain Terrain and centre Damian Traille, who both will undergo late fitness tests.
Toulon will expect a home win when they face a Bayonne side that has moved from one crisis to the next over the last few months.
Saturday's game will be new coach Didier Faugeron's first in charge and he faces a stiff challenge against a Toulon side that will be captained by Joe Van Niekerk and bolstered by the return of Alexis Palisson from the French national camp.
Spirits were lifted somewhat in Bayonne last weekend by a 90-point drubbing of Rovigo in Europe, but times are desperate domestically in the midst of a five-match winless streak.
Lyon will hope to climb out of the relegation zone when they host mid-table Agen, with the home side looking to take advantage on their nearest rivals - Biarritz and Bayonne - being on the road.
Lyon will be looking for just their fourth Top 14 victory this season but a hard-earned draw against Clermont and last weekend's big win over Newcastle in the Challenge Cup suggests they should not be written off just yet.
Agen skipper Adri Badenhorst has announced that he will retire at the end of the season.
Clermont Auvergne will travel west looking to close the gap on leaders Toulouse when they face Bordeaux-Begles at the Stade Jacques Chaban-Delmas.
They must do so without a handful of internationals and five players who picked up injuries in the Heineken Cup.
Julien Bonnaire will be rested and Lee Byrne is in Poland with Wales. Gerhard Vosloo (hamstring), Julien Bardy (shoulder) and Nathan Hines (elbow) have all been ruled out.
The good news for Les Jaunards is the return of Ludovic Radosavljevic and Anthony Floch from injury, but the visitors are set to be tested by a mid-table Bordeaux side who boats consecutive wins over Stade Francais and Bayonne.