De­pleted Mont­pel­lier bid to re­tain lead

Weekend Post (South Africa) - - SPORT -

FRENCH Top 14 lead­ers Mont­pel­lier will have their ti­tle cre­den­tials se­ri­ously tested when they travel to Stade Fran­cais to­day with­out the in­jured Aaron Cru­den and Jan­nie du Plessis.

Vern Cot­ter’s side have made a stun­ning start to the cam­paign and hold a two-point lead over sur­prise chal­lengers Lyon at the sum­mit.

But for­mer New Zealand fly­half Cru­den picked up a rib in­jury in last week­end’s 54-10 thrash­ing of Brive and joins South African prop Du Plessis, as well as backs Joe To­mane and Ti­moci Na­gusa, on the side­lines.

Mont­pel­lier will also be fac­ing their for­mer winger Marvin O’Con­nor for the first time since the French­man joined Stade Fran­cais at the start of the sea­son.

The 26-year-old of Aus­tralian de­scent was shown the door by Mont­pel­lier af­ter see­ing his 2016-17 sea­son cut short in Novem­ber last year by a dis­lo­cated knee.

“From then on, it was the be­gin­ning of a de­scent into hell,” he said.

“The new staff had to make a choice. They brought in star play­ers and had to make cuts for the salary cap. I had hardly played that sea­son, and I paid the price.”

Stade’s mis­eries have con­tin­ued this year as, af­ter see­ing a pro­posed merger with Rac­ing 92 fall through, they have lost four of their open­ing six matches, in­clud­ing two at home.

The only real bright spot of the sea­son so far was a 35-24 vic­tory over La Rochelle at the Stade Jean Bouin, when O’Con­nor dived over for the fifth and fi­nal try.

Now the cap­i­tal club will be hop­ing to prove that wasn’t a false dawn, hav­ing picked up their sec­ond win at Pau last time out.

De­spite their in­jury troubles Mont­pel­lier are still a for­mi­da­ble out­fit, with South African in­ter­na­tional Fran­cois Steyn set to take Cru­den’s place at fly­half.

Strug­gling cham­pi­ons Cler­mont travel to third-placed Toulouse to­mor­row, as they con­tinue their search for a first away vic­tory of the sea­son af­ter a 29-23 loss at Castres.

They are al­ready five points adrift of the top six and have shipped 112 points in only three games on the road.

“We had big de­fi­cien­cies there and it’s start­ing to an­noy me,” coach Franck Azema said af­ter their lat­est de­feat last Sun­day. “We have to find so­lu­tions to­gether and soon go back to the draw­ing board.”

Azema will wel­come back French in­ter­na­tional cen­tre Damian Pe­naud this week­end, but Fi­jian wing Aliv­ereti Raka is out with a heel in­jury.

Lyon will be look­ing for a fourth straight win to­day when they visit lowly Agen.

The other heavy­weight clash sees last sea­son’s reg­u­lar-sea­son ta­ble-top­pers La Rochelle face Rac­ing to­mor­row. – AFP

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