Toulon, Racing turn to French Top 14 fight amid cocaine drama

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Racing 92' Viliamu Afatia (C) passes the ball during their French Top 14 rugby union match against Brive, at the Yves Du Manoir stadium in Colombes, on February 18, 2017

Champions Racing 92 and Toulon return to Top 14 action this weekend insisting their focus remains on their play-off battle following a turbulent week overshadowed by a cocaine scandal.

French police charged Racing's ex-All Black Ali Williams with buying cocaine in Paris last weekend and Toulon's Australian international James O'Connor with possession of the drug.

The pair have been suspended by their clubs who are both involved in fierce battles to make the end of season play-offs.

"Despite all that has been written and said recently. We were, we are and we will be united," Racing 92 hooker Dimitri Szarzewski wrote on Twitter.

Toulon are fifth in the league -- inside the top six play-off spots -- but Racing are just one point behind in seventh.

Racing are keen to put the latest incident in a testing season after their title triumph last year behind them.

Most recently, two-time World Cup winner Dan Carter, was caught drink-driving in Paris.

He is also involved in an ongoing probe into the use of corticosteroids, along with fellow former All Black Joe Rokocoko and Argentine winger Juan Imhoff.

Carter has been overlooked for Saturday's game at struggling Grenoble.

Three-time European champions Toulon travel to Brive without new Australian recruit Ben Barba, a former rugby league standout.

Barba, 27, tested positive for cocaine in 2015 and again last year in Australia and was suspended by former club Cronulla Sharks, before arriving in France last month.

But Toulon have been boosted by the return of France international fly-half François Trinh-Duc after four months out with a broken arm.

- Du Plessis return -

In-form La Rochelle -- sitting second but equal on 58 points with leaders Clermont -- travel to Toulouse on Sunday looking for a first win at their south-western rivals.

Toulouse beat Clermont at home in December, but lost to Pau last month and have been out of form in recent games.

La Rochelle are coming off eight straight wins with just two defeats in 13 matches and want a first success in 'The Pink City', as they target a first qualification for the Top 14 play-offs.

Clermont travel to Castres -- 11 points adrift in fourth -- as third-placed Montpellier have scrum-half Benoît Paillaugue and South African Bismarck Du Plessis back for their trip to Lyon.

"It's going to change the profile and dynamic of the team. We count on them," said Montpellier's Cameroonian lock Robins Tchale-Watchou of the pair who were instrumental in last year's European Challenge Cup success.

Paillaugue, 29, underwent ankle and shoulder surgery as former Springbok Du Plessis, 32, tore a pectoral muscle in September.

"His (Paillaugue) return is important for our game, for the group as well," said captain Fulgence Ouedraogo. "He has an imposing presence and communicates a lot with the forwards. He knows what he wants and how how to get it."

Ireland's James Coughlan is back for Pau after being stretchered off against Lyon as they look for a seventh straight win at tailenders Bayonne.

Stade Francais -- the 2015 champions -- floundering in 11th position host Bordeaux-Begles on Sunday.


Saturday (1730GMT unless stated)

Castres v Clermont (1345), Grenoble v Racing 92, Bayonne v Pau, Brive v Toulon (1945)


Lyon v Montpellier (1130), Stade Francais v Bordeaux-Begles (1600), Toulouse v La Rochelle (1600)