This weekend’s French presidential elections will run alongside a two-way tussle for the lead of the Top 14
While Toulouse and Clermont have already assured themselves of semi-final berths, the battles for play-off places and to avoid relegation are still far from decided with just three rounds left in the regular season.
Toulon and Montpellier lead a five-horse race for the four play-off spots with Stade Français under pressure to beat Perpignan this week to stay in contention.
The real intrigue however continues to lie at the opposite end of the table as six clubs are still threatened by relegation.
Bayonne are looking to climb out of the drop zone for the fist time in months in a must-win clash with bottom club Lyon.
Biarritz are still living on the edge and have another tricky assignment against Racing Métro, who are chasing a home play-off.
Brive and Bordeaux-Bègles are also fighting for survival against Toulouse and Agen respectively.
Toulon host Castres in the weekend’s final clash which will go a long way to deciding the play-off fixtures.
Friday, April 20
Clermont v Montpellier
Saturday, April 21
Bordeaux-Bègles v Agen
Lyon v Bayonne
Stade Français v Perpignan
Toulouse v Brive
Biarritz v Racing Métro
Toulon v Castres
1 Toulouse 78
2 Clermont 78
3 Toulon 63
4 Montpellier 62
5 Racing Metro 59
6 Castres 59
7 Stade Français 53
8 Agen 48
9 Perpignan 44
10 Biarritz 43
11 Brive 42
12 Bordeaux-Begles 41
13 Bayonne 38
ASM Clermont Auvergne v Montpellier HR
Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin, Clermont Ferrand
Already qualified for the semi-finals for the sixth consecutive year and unbeaten at home in 41 games, Clermont will look to build further momentum ahead of next weekend’s Heineken Cup semi-final with Leinster.
“Montpellier are very good opponents. We have studied Montpellier on video and we have seen that aspects of their game are not that different to Leinster,” said Clermont coach Vern Cotter.
Montpellier will travel with ambitions of bringing points back however as they aim for a home play-off. Fabien Galthie’s men have put together a useful run, winning eight of their last ten games.
But Montpellier have a tough run-in scheduled with games against Biarritz and Toulouse still to play, making a repeat of last season’s feat of reaching the final a tough ask.
Kiwi centre Regan King makes his return to the Clermont midfield having recovered from concussion. Lock Jamie Cudmore is out with a knee injury.
Montpellier have left France fly-half François Trinh Duc at home. Santiago Fernandez will direct traffic for the visitors whose hopes will not be helped by the absence of Georgian loose foward Mamuka Gorgodze, who scored a hat-trick last time out against Lyon.
Clermont: Byrne, Nakaitaci, King, Fofana, Sivivatu, James, Parra, Lapandry, Vermeulen, Vosloo, Hines, Pierre, Zirakashvili, Kayser, Faure.
Replacements: Paulo, Debaty, Jacquet, Bardy, Radosavljevic, Malzieu, Russell, Kotze.
Montpellier: Amorosino, Nagusa, Doumayrou, Combezou, Bustos Moyano, Fernandez, Tomas, Martin, Tulou, Ouedaogo, Privat, De Marco, Jgenti, Creevy, Figallo.
Replacements: Van Vuuren, Leleimalefaga, Hancke, Fakaté, Matadigo, Escande, Perraux, Bustos.
Previous result Montpellier won 29-23 at home
Prediction:Bet against Clermont at home? Never! Clermont by eight points
Kick-off: 20.45 (18.45 GMT)
Referee: Romain Poite
Union Bordeaux-Bègles v SU Agen
Stade André Moga, Bègles
For many observers, Bordeaux-Bègles are now favourites to join Lyon in the drop. After cruising along in mid-table for the first half of the season, UBB have claimed victory just once in their last seven starts.
The fact that that victory came against Toulouse will only serve to frustrate their fans even more, but is an illustration of their potential.
The hosts will hope to take advantage of the fact the Agen have little to play for . The visitors are clear of the relegation dogfight, while an 11-point gap to the play-offs spots has left them out of contention.
Former Northampton full-back Bruce Reihana (calf) and prop Silviu Florea (chest) are both major doubts for Bordeaux.
Previous result: Agen won 24-15 at home
Prediction: The hosts have everything to play for. Bordeaux-Bègles by six points
Kick-off: 14.15 (12.15 GMT)
Referee: Laurent Cardona
Lyon Olympique v Aviron Bayonnais
Stade Matmut, Lyon
Bayonne are making a late run for survival and will be boosted by consecutive victories over relegation rivals Brive and Biarritz in last week’s Basque derby.
They are now just three points from safety and they will fancy their chances against a Lyon side that is all but relegated.
Bayonne welcome back fly-half Benjamin Boyet, centre Sam Gerber and loose forward Marc Baget.
Previous result: Bayonne won 15-9 at home
Prediction: It’ll be close, but Lyon look done. Bayonne by five points
Kick-off: 14.15 (12.15 GMT)
Referee: Mathieu Raynal
Stade Français v USA Perpignan
Stade Charléty, Paris
Stade Français’s hopes of making the play-offs for the first time in three years depend on their ability to maintain their undefeated record at Stade Charléty this season.
The Paris giants have invested heavily in their squad but their ambitions have been crippled by their away form with just one win on their travels this season, at Perpignan in November.
Stade are just six points adrift of Parisian rivals Racing and Castres but with both those side on the road this weekend, Michael Cheika’s side will look to close the gap.
“Nobody believes we can do it - reporters, opponents - except ourselves,” said captain Sergio Parisse.
“There are matches to play and points to take. We know it’ll be difficult. Perpignan are our most important challenge and if we lose, then it’s important to have fought.”
With only one away victory all season, Perpignan are still not entirely clear of the relegation battle despite their timely win over Toulouse.
Perpignan have opened up a six-point gap over Bayonne - and they have a favourable finish to the season with games against Lyon and Bordeaux to follow.
Ovidiu Tonita, Henry Tuilagi, Dannie Thiart and Marius Tincu are set to return to action for Perpignan, although Charles Geli, Nicolas Mas, Farid Sid, Romain Taofifenue, Gerrie Britz and Gegory Le Corvec all missed training.
Prop David Attoub could return for Stade Français after injuring his hand against Agen last month while hooker Dimitri Szarzewski, who missed last week’s game with Clermont, could also be a starter.
Veteran Argentine prop Rodrigo Roncero will play his last home game for the club on Saturday.
Previous result: Stade Français won 35-16 in Perpignan
Prediction: The hosts still have plenty to play for. Stade Français by nine points
Kick-off: 14.15 (12.15 GMT)
Referee: Jérôme Garces
Stade Toulousain v CA Brive Corrèze
Stade Ernest Wallon, Toulouse
Having managed just two away wins this season, Toulouse is the last place Brive would want to visit at the moment as the threat of relegation hangs over the Corréziens. Having seemingly climbed clear of danger a few weeks ago, Brive’s hefty loss to Racing Metro means they are back in trouble, just four points clear of the drop zone.
To make matters worst, the visitors to the Ville Rose can count on facing a backlash from a Toulouse side smarting from consecutive defeats (and three in four games).
Brive have conceded an average of 33 points in the last four visits to Stade Ernest Wallon, where they have not tasted success is six years. The visitors will however draw motivation from the draw between the sides earlier this season.
Toulouse will be bolstered by the return of a number of big names including Vincent Clerc (shoulder), Luke McAlister (calf) and Louis Picamoles (back), who all returned to training this week .
Brive have second row Thibault Dubarry and prop Pablo Henn available but Ronnie Cooke, Retief Uys and Alexandre Barozzi are set to miss out.
Previous result: 9-9 draw in Bive
Prediction: Should be a clear win for the hosts.Toulouse by twelve points
Kick-off: 14.15 (12.15 GMT)
Referee: Stéphane Pomarède
Biarritz Olympique v Racing-Métro 92
Parc des Sports d’Aguilera, Biarritz
Biarritz’s relegation worries are far from over after last week’s loss in the Basque derby which ended their four-game winning run.
Just five points clear of the drop zone, the BO need a massive performance over a Racing Métro side in very good form and chasing a home play-off.
Racing - who have won five of their last six games - will be celebrating their 130th birthday and will be looking to maintian their lead over Stade Français ahead of the Paris derby on the last day. Pierre Berbizier will want his team to improve on their patchy away form - they have registered just three wins and a draw on the road.
“For a long time we were affected by players being away at the World Cup and then by injuries. But now we have found a little success,” said Berbizier.
Biarritz will be buoyed by news that French internationals Damien Traille and Jérôme Thion as well as USA winger Takudza Ngwenya have been passed fit to return.
Benoît August and Marcelo Bosch return, on the bench, but Erik and Magnus Lund will not play.
Racing will be without veteran lock Lionel Nallet, who has a back injury. They are already without prop Mikaele Tuugahala (ankle), lock Santiago Dellape (thigh) and scrum-half Nicolas Durand (thigh).
Previous result: Racing won 28-9 at home
Prediction: Biarritz are back to winning form. Biarritz by six points
Kick-off: 15:55 (13.55 GMT)
Referee: Cédric Marchat
RC Toulon v Castres Olympique
Stade Felix Mayol, Toulon
Third-placed Toulon tackle sixth-placed Castres having lost their last two games. Toulon face a tough end to the season with Toulouse next on the menu.
Just four points separate the two teams in the standings - and a possible play-off between them is on the cards. The hosts start as a favourites having won their last three games at home against CO.
RCT will be without heavyweight centre Mathieu Bastareaud, who has a broken right hand, for around four weeks, but they welcome back Jonny Wilkinson, while Fabien Cibray has recovered from a foot injury.
Castres skipper Chris Masoe will be joining Toulon next season but will be focused on helping his inconsistent side claim consecutive victories for the first time since October
Previous result: 22-22 draw in Castres
Prediction: Toulon have been very strong at home. Toulon by seven points
Kick-off: 17:55 (15.55 GMT)
Referee: Patrick Pechambert