Stade call up heavyweights for Brive visit
Stade Francais coach Gonzalo Quesada is taking no chances ahead of Friday night’s visit of Brive, calling up his international big-guns for the Top 14 clash.
The reigning champions have had a torrid campaign so far, domestically at least, as they sit down in 11th place and 14 points off a top six play-off position, the last of which ironically is held by Brive.
Just five wins from 13 matches this season has seen Stade flirt with the relegation places rather than rub shoulders with the Top 14 giants.
“Whatever happens, we’ll feel that pressure again on Friday night,” admitted Quesada.
And it’s been made all the worse by Parisian neighbours Racing 92 leading the way amid a stunning start that has seen them lose just twice in the league so far.
So Quesada has called on France fly-half Jules Plisson and prop Rabah Slimani to play at home to the 1997 European champions.
Italy captain and inspirational No.8 Sergio Parisse, France centre Jonathan Danty and wing Hugo Bonneval are all expected to figure, along with lock Alexandre Flanquart and flanker Antoine Burban.
Of those, Burban is perhaps the only one likely to start the game as he did not actually make an appearance for France in their narrow victories over Italy (23-21) and Ireland (10-9) in the Six Nations, although he was part of the squad preparing for those matches.
The others will likely start on the bench and provide some heavyweight support at some point in the second period.
But just having them there is a boost, according to full-back Djibril Camara.
“It’s great to be at full strength to prepare for this match,” he said.
Stade desperately need a win and a strong second half of the season if they are to reach the top six, and not only a play-off berth but a return to the European Champions Cup next season.
In that competition, Quesada’s men have been impressive, winning four of their six matches in a group that contained Leicester and Munster, both two-time former winners of that competition.
Brive, for their part, have been busy tying down some key figures to boost their future hopes, with Australians Poutasi Luafutu and Alfie Mafi, as well as Fijians Benito Masilevu and Dominiko Waqaniburotu signing contract extensions on Wednesday.
– Dan Carter back -On Saturday, Racing travel to Grenoble, currently ninth.
With the Six Nations occupying the last two weekends, New Zealand legend Dan Carter has been able to rest up but will be chomping at the bit to help his side maintain their position on top of the league.
There’s a real feeling at Racing this year that something special could happen.
Only Saracens have had a better start to the season in the whole northern hemisphere but Grenoble is a difficult place to go to, and despite being top of the table, Racing have only the eighth best attack and have scored just the seventh most tries this season.
Any slip up from Racing would pave the way for Toulouse to take over at the top as they travel to 10th placed La Rochelle.
Many eyes will be on Clermont, who have been in dire form of late.
Having previously set a record unbeaten run at home, they have lost their last three Top 14 matches at the Stade Marcel Michelin while Bordeaux-Begles also beat them there in the European Champions Cup, knocking last season’s finalists out of the competition.
Playing away to Castres may be a blessing in disguise.
European champions Toulon round out the weekend matches on Sunday with a trip to Oyonnax.
Fixtures (all times GMT):
Stade Francais v Brive (1945)
Saturday (1730 GMT unless stated)
Castres v Clermont (1345), Montpellier v Pau, Bordeaux-Begles v Agen, Grenoble v Racing 92, La Rochelle v Toulouse (1945)
Oyonnax v Toulon (1515)