Castres and Stade Francais braced for 'special' match
PREVIEW: Castres and Stade Francais have spent the last few days trying to manage an unusual problem in rugby -- playing a midweek match.
Last month's abortive merger planned between Stade and their Parisian neighbours Racing 92 resulted in both sides having a match postponed.
Stade's players were on strike and Racing's considering following suit.
Racing will play their postponed fixture away to Montpellier on Saturday while the European Champions and Challenge Cup semifinals are taking place.
But as Stade are involved in that, facing Bath in Paris on Sunday, their trip to Castres must now be played in midweek.
What makes the situation even more complicated is that both Castres and Stade are in contention for a top six finish in the French League and the end of season play-off spot that brings, as well as qualification for next season's Champions Cup.
Stade are currently sixth with Castres eighth, but just one point behind.
But Stade also have the potential to qualify for next season's Champions Cup by winning this year's Challenge Cup and managing their resources to try to stay in contention on both fronts is a problem Argentine coach Gonzalo Quesada has had to juggle this week.
A few weeks ago, such a difficulty didn't appear to exist - Stade were in poor league form and trying merely to avoid being sucked into a relegation battle.
But three straight wins have put them in a play-off spot and the chance to dream of a second Top 14 title in three seasons.
"The players have to savour what they're doing and we, the coaches, must manage this special week. We'll have some difficulties to sleep," he said.
What makes things even more precarious for Stade is the uncertainty surrounding the club's future.
Quesada is leaving at the end of the season while owner Thomas Savare is looking to sell the club, although a buyer has yet to be found.
That was one reason a merger was planned - it was an easy fix for Savare to get rid of a burden that has cost him eight million euros ($8.5 million) this season.
Many Stade players may leave along with Quesada at the end of the season, while the club's very existence is far from secured.
And the Argentine wants the players to at least finish this campaign in style.
"The further we go the more we feel that this is the end of a cycle, but the more the players want to experience something very powerful.
"I've told them that maybe in a few years they could be very proud to have been a part of this team."
For Castres the issues are less complicated, although they had a tougher match on Saturday, where they lost 14-23 to Toulon while Stade were romping to a 51-16 thrashing of Pau.
But four straight defeats have head coach Christophe Urios readjusting their objectives from hoping to finish third or fourth and get a home quarterfinal in the play-offs to merely making it into the post-season.
"We're still fragile, we've lost confidence in the line-out and scrum," he admitted after the Toulon loss.
"We need to keep working hard and improving to prepare for Stade Francais and to get are minds focussed.
"A home play-off has been distanced even more - now we're just talking about being, or not, in the top six."