Top 14 leaders Toulon to enter 2nd half of season
PARIS (AFP) –
Top 14 leaders Toulon enter the second half of the season on Sunday with coach Bernard Laporte calling for more of the same from his men.
The multi-talented Mediterranean side are currently on a roll that saw them defeat bogey side Agen 15-9 away last weekend. That put them seven points clear of second-placed Clermont with reigning champions Toulouse trailing a further two points back.
On paper the visit of seventh-place Perpignan to the Stade Mayol on Sunday should not be cause for too much concern, but Laporte, who was national team coach from 1999 to 2007 and then in government as secretary of state for sport, is wary.
“We have finished on top in the first half of the season, but that is far from an end to the matter,” he said.
“What matters most now is to stay top in the second half of the season. That is what we are aiming to do and we have a favourable fixture list as we have eight home games out of 13.
“We will look to go on the attack against Perpignan, but when you look at the squad they have, they are a very good team and we need to take them very seriously indeed.”
Back into the mix for Toulon come international winger Alexis Palisson, who has been sidelined with a back injury since early October, and back-to-form fly-half Frederic Michalak, who was rested last weekend after his fine performances in France’s November Test matches.
Clermont, who edged Bordeaux away 28-24 last weekend, welcome Bayonne, who scored a fine 39-13 home win over bottom-side Mont-de-Marsan.
The Auvergne side have injury concerns over veteran international winger Aurelien Rougerie, who has a long-standing back problem, as well as hooker Benjamin Kayser and Samoan centre Benson Stanley, who both have been laid low with a virus.
Toulouse were also missing several top players when they resumed training on Wednesday ahead of the tough trip to Castres, who are currently level with Guy Noves’s side in third place on 42 points.
Injuries apart, they will be without key players Yannick Nyanga, Yoann Huget, Louis Picamoles, Yoann Maestri amd Census Johnston, all of whom are obliged to take a break after international duties.
The loss to Grenoble last weekend was the second in a row for Toulouse following the away defeat against Ospreys in the European Cup and Castres forwards coach Laurent Labit has promised them no mercy on Sunday.
“I have every respect in the world for this club, but we will have no complexes against them as we know that we have some good qualities of our own,” he said.
In other games fifth-place Montpellier host Stade Francais, Grenoble take on Bordeaux, Racing Metro look to bounce back at home to Agen and Mont-de-Marsan seek what would be just their second win of the season at home to Biarritz.
Racing Metro v Agen, Mont-de-Marsan v Biarritz, Grenoble v Bordeaux, Clermont v Bayonne, Castres v Toulouse, Montpellier v Stade Francais, Toulon v Perpignan