Rugby

Clermont target 70 on the trot

2013-12-28 08:53
Clermont flags (File)

Paris - French Top 14 leaders Clermont could rack up a 70th successive home match without defeat when they tackle Oyonnax on Sunday.

Clermont lead the standings by four points from defending champions Castres and European champions Toulon.

Although they will be favourites to take a bonus-point win against Oyonnax, they will be aware that the minnows stunned them 30-19 back on the second weekend of the season in August.

Victory for Clermont will be a perfect boost ahead of a tricky trip to Toulouse on the first weekend of 2014.

"Despite the holidays, I feel the players are fresh," said Clermont coach Vern Cotter.

"The break would have done them good and we have been working on scrum and rucks.

"The period at the end of the year can be tricky and don't forget that Oyonnax have already defeated us twice (in the Top 14 and in a pre-season friendly). They can be a handful."

Clermont are likely to recall French international hooker Benjamin Kayser and backrow forward Damien Chouly with Canada's Jamie Cudmore lining up with fellow lock, Scotland's Nathan Hines.

Skipper Aurelien Rougerie could play at centre but Morgan Parra, Lee Byrne and Wesley Fofana are amongst the sidelined stars.

Toulon, without an away win in the Top 14 since a 24-13 victory at Biarritz in September, go to Racing Metro with Frederic Michalak handed the scrum-half starting spot by coach Bernard Laporte.

Michalak's opportunities at fly-half have been limited by the form of Jonny Wilkinson and Matt Giteau.

"Fred is not preoccupied by the fly-half position," said Laporte.

"He just wants to play. Wilkinson and Giteau are putting in good performances.

"I hope he will rediscover the enthusiasm that he had before his injury (Michalak underwent shoulder surgery in July).

"Since he came back in mid-October, he has had a problem with his confidence and his health. Against Stade Francais, we felt that he was worried about the tackles.

"This apprehension will disappear when he gets his confidence back."

Michalak will play instead of Sebastien Tillous-Borde who has a knee injury.

South African winger Bryan Habana is still missing with a thigh injury.

Castres have won four and drawn one of their last five matches and go to Grenoble who have beaten both Toulon and Toulouse in recent home games.

Grenoble will welcome back hooker Laurent Bouchet who has been out of action for four months.

He will play in place of Australia's Anthony Hegarty who suffered a third head injury this season in last week's 21-6 loss at Stade Francais.

Elsewhere, fourth-placed Toulouse go to second-bottom Bayonne.

They will be missing centre Florian Fritz who will be out of action for at least two months after sustaining an arm injury in a road traffic accident.

Sunday:

Stade Franais v Perpignan, Bordeaux-Bgles v Brive, Clermont v Oyonnax, Grenoble v Castres, Montpellier v Biarritz, Bayonne v Toulouse, Racing-Metro v Toulon

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