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Racing bid for perfect 10 against Toulouse in French Top 14

PARIS (AFP) –

Racing Metro's fullback Juan-Martin Hernandez celebrates scoring a try against Perpignan, in Colombes, on March 23, 2013

Racing Metro’s fullback Juan-Martin Hernandez celebrates scoring a try during their French Top 14 rugby union match against Perpignan, on March 23, 2013, in Colombes. Racing will bid to stretch their winning run to 10 matches when they host Toulouse at the Stade de France in Top 14 action on Saturday, with the countdown on for end-of-season play-off spots.

Racing-Metro will bid to stretch their winning run to 10 matches when they host Toulouse at the Stade de France in Top 14 action this weekend, with the countdown on for end-of-season play-off spots.

In-form Racing sit fifth in the table on 62 points, level with fourth-placed Castres, as Montpellier and Perpignan give chase in sixth and seventh on 59 and 56 points respectively.

Only the top six will make the play-offs and remain in title contention.

Toulouse are seven points ahead of Racing in third, behind leaders Toulon (77) and second-placed Clermont (75), and will likely field a strong team for their visit to the French national stadium on Saturday.

Racing president Jacky Lorenzetti expressed his hopes that his team’s string of nine consecutive league victories will continue.

“When we were 11th in the table, we didn’t understand it too much,” said Lorenzetti, who has seen his team supplant Stade Francais as the leading capital club, the latter languishing in 10th.

“We analysed things, we spoke with the players and we decided not to roll over. I’m not surprised because we trusted the squad, but it’s a good feeling because we now find ourselves where we should have been from the start.”

Biarritz's Jean-pascal Barraque (front) is tackled by Grenoble's Aloisio Butonidualevu, in Biarritz, on March 29, 2013

Biarritz’s fly-half Jean-pascal Barraque (front) is tackled by Grenoble’s Aloisio Butonidualevu during their French Top 14 rugby union match, at the Aguilera stadium in Biarritz, southwestern France, on March 29, 2013. Biarritz won 33-16.

Although coach Gonzalo Quesada is reportedly moving to Stade Francais next year, Lorenzetti insisted to AFP that it was not yet a done deal, although he did admit that the 2013/14 season would see a big turnover in players.

“There’s about 20-22 percent of the players who’ll leave the squad, half of whom will likely finish their careers after having helped us in the rebuilding process.

“In total, there’ll be 10 or 11 departures, with a dozen or so coming in,” Lorenzetti said, with Wales players Jamie Roberts and Dan Lydiate touted as likely additions.

Stade Francais play star-studded Toulon earlier Saturday in the northern city of Lille, and captain Sergio Parisse sees the game as a springboard to the European Challenge Cup, in which Stade are one of four French teams drawn in the April 4-6 quarter-finals alongside Biarritz, Perpignan and Toulouse.

“Even if we can no longer really play for sixth place, we’ll try to fix the Challenge Cup as our goal,” said Parisse, with his team drawn away to English club Bath in the tournament.

“That starts with the home game against Toulon, whom I consider the best team in Europe at the moment.

“There’s no better way to prepare for a quarter-final than by playing the current benchmark team.”

Parisse, who enjoyed another outstanding Six Nations as Italy captain, explained: “It’s no longer about the defensive bonus point, the four or five points that will change our championship.

“However, on a mental level, to produce a good game against Toulon, no matter the result, enables us to get in place and start the Bath week in high spirits and confidence.”

Other games on Saturday see Clermont, who are through to the European Cup quarter-finals along with Montpellier and Toulon, host Agen, Bayonne travel to Bordeaux-Begles, while Perpignan are at home to Castres.

Biarritz entertained Grenoble in Friday’s match, the hosts hit hard by a raft of injuries to key players on top of suspected mumps for Julien Peyrelongue and Benoit Guyot. Biarritz won 33-16.

Fixtures (all times GMT)

Saturday

Stade Francais v Toulon (1400), Bordeaux-Begles v Bayonne, Clermont v Agen, Mont-de-Marsan v Montpellier, Perpignan v Castres (all 1730), Racing-Metro v Toulouse (1940)

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