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Top 14 Preview: Round Four
Racing-Metro host high-flying Clermont, Agen look to stay unbeaten
The biggest clash of the fourth round of Top 14 fixtures sees Racing-Metro host table-toppers Clermont, while slow-starting Biarritz must visit defending champions Toulouse.
Meanwhile Agen, who are one of only two unbeaten teams in France along with Clermont, will have their credentials tested by a tough trip to Castres.
In contrast, Montpellier and Lyon have yet to win this season and have another tough weekend ahead as they both face away fixtures.
Biarritz have also not yet won and will have a tough time changing that on Friday as they have tasted victory in Toulouse in 10 years.
But the champions, already with a long injury list, continue to lose players as Jean-Marc Doussain has been called up to the France squad, forcing back coach Jean-Baptiste Elissalde out of retirement. Doussain will start on Friday, before travelling to New Zealand.
Biarritz also have injury concerns, but veteran prop Sylvain Marconnet will be able to start on the bench. Lock Jerome Thion is ruled out, however.
Philippe Saint-Andre will oversee his last match in charge of Toulon when his side face Bordeaux-Begles, with the former Sale boss leaving after a war of words with owner Mourad Boudjellal.
Both teams have a won one and lost two so far this season but the hosts will be boosted by the return of Matthew Clarkin, Justin Purll and Blair Connor, who all start after being rested for last weekend's defeat by Clermont.
Brive will look to continue their recovery from a season-opening home loss when they face relegation rivals Lyon.
Many have predicted that, unlike Brive, Lyon will stay up, but another defeat on Friday will put the newcomers behind the eight ball as games against heavy hitters Racing Metro and Castres are next up on the menu.
Lyon have never won in Brive, with their best result being a 9-9 draw back in 1963.
Sitting one place behind their unbeaten visitors Agen in the standings, Castres will have ambitions to take the championship lead as a bonus-point win could move them to the summit.
A big win over Stade Français and victory in Biarritz have confirmed that Castres - like last year - are one of the form teams of the early season.
South African scrum-half Rory Kockott starts for the home side, with Romain Teulet returning at full-back berth.
Stade Francais have made an average start to the season and will look to spark their campaign into life when they face Bayonne, who are one point behind them in the standings.
Bayonne are the only side in the league who have yet to score a try, although their defence has impressed, conceding just a one try in three games.
The Stade Francais defence, by contrast, has conceded seven tries but they've scored just as many, making them one of the competition's most successful attacks at the moment.
Two teams struggling to launch their respective seasons face off in a Mediterranean derby as Montpellier travel to the Stade Aime Giral to face Perpignan.
Montpellier have yet to taste victory this term but last week's draw against Stade Francais will give them hope that a repeat of last year's 16-6 win in Perpignan is possible.
Unfortunately for Fabien Galthie's team, injuries continue to compound the effects of international call-ups as scrum-half Julien Tomas has been added to the list of absentees, while good news sees the return of goal-kicking Pumas wing Martin Bustos Moyano.
Former Wallaby Ryan Cross starts for the Catalans, who also welcome back loose forward Jean-Pierre Perez.
The lone clash on Saturday sees Racing-Metro host Clermont, who have won all three of their matches to top the table despite missing a heap of international players.
But they face a tough trip to second-placed Racing-Metro, especially after classy full-back Anthony Floch was lost for two to three months with a groin injury.
Racing-Metro will be looking to bounce back from last Saturday's 41-36 defeat by champions Toulouse but fly-half Jonathan Wisniewski may well not start after he came off early because he was tired against Toulouse.
Clermont aren't the only ones with injury worries as Racing wing Benjamin Fall will be sidelined for up to five months after injuring his knee last weekend.
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Top 14 Table
|Friday 5th September|
|18:45||Montpellier vs Castres|
|Saturday 6th September|
|12:45||Brive vs Toulouse|
|15:00||Clermont Auvergne vs Racing Metro Paris|
|16:30||Stade Francais vs Bayonne|
|16:30||Grenoble vs La Rochelle|
|16:30||Lyon vs Oyonnax|
|18:45||Toulon vs Bordeaux-Begles|
|Saturday 13th September|
|16:00||Toulouse vs Clermont Auvergne|
|16:00||Oyonnax vs Grenoble|
|16:00||Bayonne vs Brive|
|16:00||Bordeaux-Begles vs Montpellier|
|16:00||Toulon vs Stade Francais|
|16:00||Racing Metro Paris vs Lyon|
|16:00||La Rochelle vs Castres|
|Saturday 20th September|
|15:00||Brive vs Toulon|
|15:00||Grenoble vs Bayonne|
|15:00||Clermont Auvergne vs Lyon|
|15:00||Montpellier vs Stade Francais|
|15:00||Racing Metro Paris vs Toulouse|
|15:00||La Rochelle vs Bordeaux-Begles|
|15:00||Castres vs Oyonnax|
|Saturday 27th September|
|16:00||Bayonne vs Toulouse|
|16:00||Brive vs Bordeaux-Begles|
|16:00||Oyonnax vs Clermont Auvergne|
|16:00||Lyon vs Castres|
Read the thoughts and opinions of Phil Edwards with skysports.com