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Top 14 Round 4: preview and predictions

Mercurial fly-half Frederic Michalack will not make is starting debut for Toulon as Jonny Wilkinson retain his No.10 jersey for the reception of Bordeaux-Begles tomorrow.

England internaltionals Delon Armitage and Andrew Sheridan will start at full-back and prop while Delon’s brother Steffon and Welsh prop Gethin Jenkins are on the bench for the French powerhouse who are still undefeated after three away games.

But they still sit behind Biarritz who are enjoying a totally different start of the season to the one they had last year.

Strong of beating Toulouse last week, they host Montpellier hoping to rack up a fourth consecutive win (They had to wait until the 15th round on January 6th for their fourth win last season!).

Englishmen Iain Balshaw and Magnus Lund start at full-back and blindside while Aled Brew will hope to carry on his impressive start of the seaon on the left wing.

Fly-half James Hook will face his Wales half-back partner Mike Phillips when Perpignan entertain Bayonne at Aime Giral, in a vital clash for the Catalans who are still winning-less after the first three rounds.

Luke Narraway and Alasdair Strokosch will start in the back row for Perpignan while Richard Haughton should make his debut coming from the bench but Luke Charteris is rested with a calf niggle.

Lee Byrne and Clermont host Racing Metro on Sunday night with the necessity to win if they don’t want to already be two wins behind Toulon and Biarritz.

Meanwhile, Scotland prop Euan Murray will hope Agen can get their first win of the season but they face a daunting trip to reigning champions Toulouse who welcome All Black Luke MacAlister at No.10.

Max Evans and Marcel Garvey start for Castres‘ trip to Paul Sackey’s Stade Francais.

PREDICTIONS:

Stade Francais v Castres – Castres will be too strong and get a good away win.

Biarritz v Montpellier – Biarritz will stay on their momentum and win.

Toulouse v Agen – Toulouse will put their neighbours deep in the red zone with a big win.

Grenoble v Mont de Marsan – Grenoble will follow up their good start and win the battle of the newcomers.

Perpignan v Bayonne – Perpignan have to win and will do so against Bayonne who are struggling too.

Toulon v Bordeaux-Begles – Toulon will go top of the table with a bonus-point win.

Clermont v Racing Metro – Should be a good game but Clermont will just be too strong in their fortress.

Read the round up of Saturday’s action in David Barnes’ French Column in Sunday’s The Rugby Paper.

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