Angry Toulon look to make 'bumpkins' Castres pay
Castres' Remi Tales (L) pictured during a European Cup match against Leinster in southern France on January 12, 2014 - by Gabalda
Toulon, who lie fifth in the table, three points off third-placed Castres in what has been thus far a curate's egg of a season for them, will go into the match fired up even more after their head coach Bernard Laporte was slapped with a 13 game ban on Wednesday for his tirade against a referee.
The club have appealed against the punishment but they are a side that thrives on confrontation and casting themselves as victims -- club president Mourad Boudjellal having also in the past been heavily punished for his outspoken comments -- and Castres can expect to feel the backlash.
The match is seen as so crucial to Toulon's prospects of even qualifying for Europe through their final league position that Boudjellal has instructed that France centre Mathieu Bastareaud be selected.
That came after France coach Philippe Saint-Andre's plea that those players who started in both the wins over England and Italy in the Six Nations should be rested.
"Bernard Laporte asked me the question (over Bastareaud being available or not)," the comic books mogul told AFP.
"I replied that as owner of Toulon and that I pay the wages of Mathieu Bastareaud was available for selection for the match.
"There are people such as the president of the Federation or the coach of the French team that take decisions that mean others lose out.
"If we lose against Castres, we seriously risk missing out on top level European competition next season."
Castres, though, will be no pushovers having adapted well to life after becoming somewhat surprising champions.
The team that their highly-rated backrow forward Ibrahim Diarra describes as being 'country bumpkins' has been boosted this week with a whole swathe of players committing themselves to the club by signing new contracts.
They will be able to call on captain and fly-half Remy Tales after he recovered from a neck problem but will acquiesce with Saint-Andre's request and not select French fullback Brice Dulin.
Castres, though, will look to their South African points machine Rory Kockott to set aside a possible conflict of loyalties as he is reputed to have signed a pre-contract agreement with Toulon for next season.
For Castres president Pierre-Yves Revol the reason for their continued success is down to the fact they have not let last season's triumph go to their heads.
"We have largely managed our success last season in a good way," he told AFP.
"That is because we didn't think that just because we won the title it propelled us into the role of the driving force of French club rugby.
"We are not that pretentious. We have humble people around us and within the squad, who allow us to keep our feet on the ground."
While they and Toulon battle it out to keep their places in the play-off picture leaders Clermont will travel to sixth-placed Grenoble on Friday looking to build on their impressive win over second-placed Stade Francais last Saturday.
One side hoping Grenoble slip up will be Toulouse, whose first home loss of the season to Montpellier last Friday saw them slide out of the play-off spots to seventh, and will test their shaky away form against bottom side Biarritz on Saturday.
Toulouse president Jean-Rene Bouscatel has been one of the most vociferous critics of the request to rest the French international players and it will be interesting to see if he does indeed allow them to play in a game that his side can ill afford to lose.
Friday (1945 GMT) Grenoble v Clermont
Saturday (1730 GMT unless stated) Toulon v Castres (1355), Biarritz v Toulouse, Oyonnax v Bordeaux-Begles, Montpellier v Perpignan, Racing-Metro v Bayonne, Brive v Stade Francais (1935)