Clermont bid to bury Euro woes
European champions Toulon and beaten finalists Clermont face little rest after their hard-fought title battle.
European champions Toulon and beaten finalists Clermont face little rest after their hard-fought title battle, the two teams back in action this weekend in the fight for the Top 14 crown.
Toulon, whom English flyhalf Jonny Wilkinson steered to a 16-15 victory over Clermont in the Euro Cup Final, are first up, with a tough encounter against 19-time champions Toulouse on Friday.
Clermont then take to the same Stade de La Beaujoire in the western French city of Nantes on Saturday, drawn against Castres.
Vern Cotter's team, devastated after losing out to Toulon despite outscoring them by two tries to one in the European Cup final, finished the regular season one point ahead of Bernard Laporte's Mediterranean outfit.
Toulouse were 14 points further adrift in third, with Castres in the final semifinal spot.
Clermont flank Julien Bonnaire said his team would not be underestimating Castres, convincing winners over Montpellier in the play-offs.
"They're not there by chance," the France international said.
"They're a complete team. But we're capable of beating whoever.
"We've all got to be on our game for the full 80 minutes.
"I know Castres will be ready and waiting. But if we do what we need to, we'll win.
"We'll have to play like we did at the start of the season. There's no need to look for any other motivation."
Castres flank Yannick Caballero maintained that Clermont were "not invincible".
"If we watch them play, it's going to cost us very dearly.
"So we'll have to try to impose our game-plan and believe in our chances."
Toulon's players will take to the park wearing jerseys embroidered with a star signifying their European success, but thoughts of a double are far from their minds.
"From Monday we'll have to switch over and think of the semi-final," European Cup man-of-the-match Mathieu Bastareaud said after the final.
"We're professionals. We've gone halfway, we know we cane still achieve something historic. We have the means to do it.
"But Toulouse will be awaiting us with teeth bared."
Toulouse won the Top 14 last season, with a tight 18-12 victory over Toulon in the final, all the points coming from penalty kicks from ex-All Black Luke McAlister and Wilkinson.
Toulouse's France wing/fullback Yoann Huget said there was no need for his team to ask themselves "10,000 questions".
"We'll have to be physically ready to deal with the kitchen sink Toulon are going to throw at us," he said.
(Kick-off times GMT)
Friday, May 24
Toulon v Toulouse
(Stade de La Beaujoire, Nantes - 19.00)
Referee: Pascal Gauzère
Assistant referees: Romain Poite, Sébastien Clouté
TMO: Jean-Luc Pellaprat
Saturday, May 25
Clermont v Castres
(Stade de La Beaujoire, Nantes - 14.30)
Referee: Christophe Berdos
Assistant referees: Patrick Pechambert, Sébastien Minery
TMO: Eric Gauzins Clermont
* The Final will be at Stade de France, Saturday June 1 (19.00)