Coach Brunel bidding to leave Bordeaux in Top 14 top six
New France coach Jacques Brunel will make his Bordeaux-Begles farewell with a visit to Stade Francais on Saturday, while Toulouse host Toulon as the race for the Top 14 playoffs hots up.
Having said goodbye to the Bordeaux home fans with an impressive victory over high-flying La Rochelle last week, a second straight win could see Brunel leave the club in the playoff places.
Bordeaux are eighth in the table, but level on points with sixth-placed Toulouse and free-falling Lyon.
Brunel will officially start his new job as the national team boss next week after replacing the sacked Guy Noves on Wednesday, just five weeks ahead of France's Six Nations opener against Ireland at the Stade de France.
His last Top 14 game will also be in Paris against Stade -- who have once again struggled this term after the proposed merger with Racing 92 fell through.
The French Rugby Federation said when appointing Brunel that a selection of Top 14 coaches would assist the 63-year-old for international matches, but Clermont director of rugby Franck Azema poured some cold water onto those hopes after being asked to play a part in the new set-up.
"For me, the most important thing today is the club," said Azema, who led Clermont to the league title last season.
"To leave my team during the tournament isn't conceivable, either in November or for the next World Cup (in Japan in 2019).
"I told Jacques that the only possibility for me is to come on the June tour, as it would be different and I could take my time off, but I'm not sure that's still interesting to them."
If other Top 14 coaches choose to follow Azema's lead, then that would be a big blow to Brunel as he bids to compile his coaching staff before the Six Nations.
"Ideally I would like a scrummaging and line-out specialist and two or three more general specialists," he told AFP.
"But I think that, because of the proximity of the Six Nations, it will be difficult to get everyone together quickly."
- Toulouse, Toulon in playoff fight -
Toulouse face Toulon on Saturday in a heavyweight clash that pits together two teams who have won seven European Cup titles between them.
But neither side have been consistent so far this season, with Toulouse two points adrift of fifth-placed Toulon.
Early-season league leaders Montpellier returned to the Top 14 summit last week with a comfortable win over Lyon and will expect to see off Brive, who remain in the relegation zone despite three successive home victories.
La Rochelle will be looking to bounce back from last week's loss to Bordeaux when they host Agen, while Azema's Clermont take on third-placed Castres on Sunday looking to revive a floundering title defence that has seen them slip to 10th and three points off the playoff spots.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
La Rochelle v Agen (1300), Stade Francais v Bordeaux-Begles (1500), Brive v Montpellier, Oyonnax v Racing 92 (1700), Toulouse v Toulon (1945)
Lyon v Pau (1300), Clermont v Castres (1500)
© 2017 AFP