Marchand family battle as Toulouse head to Lyon in Top 14

Paris (AFP) –

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A week after the Couilloud brothers, Barnabe of Biarritz and Baptiste of Lyon, faced off in the Top 14, French rugby has another intriguing fraternal battle to savour as Lyon host leaders Toulouse on Sunday.

This time around it is the Marchand boys, both of whom wear the number two jersey for their respective clubs.

Julien, 26, is the better known, having established himself as the first-choice Toulouse hooker and pocketed 14 French caps over the last couple of years.

Younger brother Guillaume, 23, has French junior honours to his name but left Toulouse during the summer to escape the shadow cast by his sibling.

"He would have continued to play matches if he had stayed in Toulouse," insists Julien ahead of Sunday's meeting.

"There is no pre-established hierarchy here, the cards are more or less reshuffled for each game.

"It's more a personal choice, to grow up and discover another club, with another vision. He didn't do it out of spite. He really wanted to go to Lyon."

Whether that is the whole story, only the family breakfast table can tell but thus far it has been a worthwhile move for Guillaume, who has played a part in each of Lyon's games to date, starting four of them.

Lyon have won three of those six and find themselves third in the table, nine points behind their opponents who are the only side still to hold a 100 percent record.

At times Toulouse, the reigning French and European champions, have purred majestically, unleashing the destructive talents of Antoine Dupont, Romain Ntamack and Thomas Ramos, among others. At other times they have coughed and sputtered like a Lamborghini with a blocked fuel line.

Last weekend's 38-10 win over Pau was flattering in the extreme -- they trailed 7-0 at halftime and looked dreadful.

Quite apart from family bragging rights, Julien also has the prospect of a France call-up for the autumn internationals, and perhaps even, in the absence of the injured Charles Ollivon, the captaincy.

- Racing 'responsibility' -

Another who has been linked to the temporary vacancy is Gael Fickou, the experienced international centre who has been handed the armband at Racing 92 in place of the sidelined Henry Chavancy.

"I took it with pleasure and simplicity because I think it is time for me to take responsibility," said Fickou who moved across Paris from Stade Francais late last season.

"In the France team, we will see how it goes. We are not there yet, it is in one or two weeks. I already support Charles a lot. But there are other pretenders who would be very good in this role too.

"If they need to, they know they can count on me."

Of more immediate importance is fourth-placed Racing's trip to Toulon on Saturday evening.

The hosts have struggled this season as they await the debut of summer steal Cheslin Kolbe, who is due to be presented to the crowd on Saturday albeit not yet in a playing role, and slugged their way to an underwhelming 13-9 win over Brive last week.

Racing still have not quite got going but are showing signs that they may well be Toulouse's chief challengers come the spring.

"We are sometimes frustrated after the matches but today we are in the top six," said Fickou. "We have fun on the pitch even if we always expect better, given the squad that we have."

Gael Fickou (centre) has taken the captain's armband at Racing 92
Gael Fickou (centre) has taken the captain's armband at Racing 92 GAIZKA IROZ AFP

Bordeaux-Begles can consolidate second place with victory in Pau while Ronan O'Gara's La Rochelle, who are slowly finding the rhythm that took them to the European and Top 14 finals last season, face an awkward trip to Brive.

Round 7 fixtures (all times GMT)

Saturday (1300 unless stated): Brive v La Rochelle, Castres v Biarritz, Pau v Bordeaux-Begles, Perpignan v Stade Francais, Montpellier v Clermont (1500), Toulon v Racing 92 (1905)

Sunday: Lyon v Toulouse (1905)