Racing look for Top 14 boost after Euro woes

Paris (AFP) - Racing 92 continue the quest to forget their European Cup disappointment as they travel to La Rochelle with a top two place up for grabs.

Racing have already booked their top six berth in the end of season play-offs, but only the leading two sides avoid the first round of play-offs.

With a six-point lead at the top, Clermont look certain to secure one of those two places but Racing only trail Toulon and Montpellier by four points and those two face each other on Sunday.

Two victories from their final two Top 14 matches could be enough for Racing, although they will be without New Zealander No.8 Chris Masoe and France scrum-half Maxime Machenaud for the trip to La Rochelle.

Former All Black Masoe may also miss the final match of the regular season at home to Montpellier, a clash that could decided who makes it into the top two.

Remi Tales looks set to deputise for All Black legend Dan Carter, who has a calf problem, at fly-half after overcoming his own ankle injury.

It's only two weeks since Racing were suffocated by Saracens in the European Cup final but the Parisians still have much to play for this season with the Top 14 close to reaching its climax.

"We still have five or six matches left to finish this season in a beautiful way," said backs coach Laurent Labit following last weekend's 43-13 triumph over Pau.

Other top sides have stumbled over the last month, with Montpellier losing at La Rochelle, Toulon defeated at home to Toulouse and Clermont beaten by Racing.

Toulouse could secure their play-off spot on Sunday if they beat Clermont at home, although by then they may already be qualified.

Only Bordeaux-Begles and Castres both winning their final two matches, and probably earning bonus points along the way, would be enough to deny Toulouse a top six berth.

Bordeaux host Brive on Saturday when Castres are away to already-relegated Oyonnax. More than likely those two will be fighting for sixth spot next weekend.

The crunch clash of the weekend is Toulon's trip to Montpellier on Sunday.

They are level on 77 points, with three-time European champions Toulon able to secure a top two spot if they win with a bonus point as they would then have an unassailable head-to-head lead.

And the mood is not ideal in the Montpellier camp after South African head coach Jake White opted to dispense with Toulon-bound fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc for the match, much to the chagrin of the club's loyal fans.

It would have been potentially the France international's last appearance in front of his adoring Montpellier public but White had no room for sentiment when picking his match-day squad.

"Francois was offered a contract extension, he chose to leave, for him. Perfect, no problem," said White.

"I'm not angry but now I have to make decisions for the club."

Even if they miss out on a top two spot, Montpellier can at least ensure by winning that they will get a home clash in the quarter-finals.

Alongside Clermont, they have been the form side over the second half of the season, led by a 13-strong contingent of South Africans that helped Montpellier beat Harlequins 26-19 to win the European Challenge Cup two weeks ago.

Fixtures (all times GMT):

Friday

La Rochelle v Racing 92 (1845)

Saturday

Bordeaux-Begles v Brive (1330), Stade Francais v Agen (1630), Pau v Grenoble (1630), Oyonnax v Castres (1845)

Sunday

Toulouse v Clermont (1430), Montpellier v Toulon (1845)