TOP14 rugby returns this weekend as ASM Clermont Auvergne and La Rochelle resume their battle for supremacy.
The European Rugby Champions Cup top seeds sit top of the league, but are level on points with the Challenge Cup quarter-finalists ahead of this weekend’s round of games. Clermont, who face three-time European champions RC Toulon in the quarter-finals, have the chance to move clear of the shock contenders when they travel to Castres on Saturday.
Castres may have exited at the Champions Cup pool stages, but three wins from their last four matches have propelled them into the final play-off position. Clermont’s bonus-point 46-27 over Bayonne saw them move level on points with La Rochelle, but they top the table on points difference.
La Rochelle face a trip to BT Murrayfield to take-on Edinburgh in the Challenge Cup quarter-finals, but first they have to overcome a Champions Cup heavyweight. Toulouse lie in wait at Stade Ernest Wallon, the venue where they earned a Champions Cup last eight tie at Wasps with victory over Connacht. There league form is a stark comparison to La Rochelle’s, who have won their last five matches to Toulouse’s two.
Montpellier are hot on the heels of the TOP14 front-runners, and will be hoping to gain some ground when they travel to struggling Lyon on Sunday. Jake White is hoping to sign off as coach with a TOP14 title before Scotland coach Vern Cotter takes-over at the end of the season.
Toulon’s season got off to a slow start before they scraped into the Champions Cup quarter-finals. The picture now looks brighter for Mike Ford’s men, who could climb into the top four with a win at Brive on Saturday if other results go their way. But Brive, who sit 10th in the league, want to warm-up for their Challenge Cup clash with Bath Rugby.
Stade Français will travel to Principality Stadium, a ground steeped in European tradition, to take-on Ospreys in the Challenge Cup quarter-finals. But they can’t afford to look too far ahead, as they sit 11th in the TOP14 with just one win in their last five games. They have an opportunity to arrest their bad run of form against Bordeaux-Begles, who have not won since November.
French champions Racing 92 have struggled on both fronts this year as they prepare to travel to Grenoble, while Pau can make it seven wins in-a-row against bottom side Bayonne.