Giteau hands Toulon boost for Toulouse clash
Veteran Australian playmaker Matt Giteau will line up for Toulon in Saturday's heavyweight Top 14 duel against Toulouse as the French season builds towards a thrilling climax.
Giteau underwent a groin operation in January, and only made his return to action in the 19-16 European Cup quarter-final defeat by Racing 92.
The 33-year-old limped off during that game after an hour and missed last week's Top 14 win at Pau.
"I feel fine, I have done a lot of running and physical work," Giteau said. "This will be a tough match against Toulouse but I am ready."
Compatriot Drew Mitchell is also set to return for Toulon although South African winger Bryan Habana remains sidelined from a powerful starting line-up which boasts Maxime Mermoz and Ma'a Nonu in midfield.
In a further boost to the deposed European champions, coach Bernard Laporte said Thursday that Welsh international star Leigh Halfpenny, who hasn't played all season after having two knee operations, could feature in the closing weeks of the campaign.
There are still five regular season games to play before the six-team play-offs get underway.
Toulon are currently in third spot on 67 points, eight behind leaders Clermont, but just one back from Montpellier in second spot.
Toulon are virtually guaranteed a place in the play-offs but the same cannot be said for 19-time French champions Toulouse.
They are in fifth place on 57 points, 10 behind Toulon and seven back from Racing 92.
Bordeaux and Castres -- in sixth and seventh at the start of the weekend -- both have 53 points.
Toulouse remain a club in transition having seen long-time coach Guy Noves depart for the French national team in 2015 after 22 years at the helm.
"That was the end of a cycle. Now we are in the process of reconstruction but it can't be achieved in a day," said president Jean-Rene Bouscatel ahead of Saturday's game, to be played in Nice.
- Right track -
Coach Ugo Mola insists Toulouse remain on the right track with a 14-3 win over Racing 92 last time out indicating that progress is being made.
"Everyone expects us to fall and stumble but they have to recognise that we are still there," said Mola, whose team were co-leaders in January despite starting the campaign badly affected by losing a host of stars to World Cup duty.
"We will prepare for the final stretch to qualify and perhaps prove all those people wrong."
Toulouse's topsy-turvy season was illustrated by a third failure in four years to escape the pool stages of the European Cup.
Toulouse will still be without skipper and back row star Thierry Dusautoir (foot injury) and Yoann Maestri (shoulder).
They are also missing lock Patricio Albacete (knee), scrum-half David Mele (triple fracture of the hand), winger Yoann Huget (knee) as well as flanker Yacouba Camara, who suffered a right knee injury against Racing which will keep him out for nine months.
Racing 92, who are already through to the European Cup final where they will face Saracens in May, host Clermont on Sunday.
The Paris side will look to put behind them the controversy surrounding their Italian prop Martin Castrogiovanni who was suspended for partying in Las Vegas last weekend when he should have been in Nottingham to support his team in the European Cup semi-final against Leicester.
Second-placed Montpellier host Grenoble and welcome back influential lock forward Jacques Du Plessis who has finished a three-week ban for eye-gouging in last month's Top 14 game with Racing.
Montpellier's South African coach Jake White will start compatriot Francois Steyn at fly-half for the first time in place of Demetri Catrakilis who suffered a thigh injury against Newport in last week's European Challenge Cup semi-finals.
Fixtures (1630GMT unless stated)
Castres v Pau, Agen v Brive, Montpellier v Grenoble, Oyonnax v La Rochelle, Bordeaux-Begles v Stade Francais (1845GMT)
Racing 92 v Clermont (1415GMT)
© 2016 AFP