PREVIEW: Away form 'flip-flops' worry Cotter on Clermont return
TOP14, ROUND 15: New Zealander Vern Cotter won't be able to enjoy his return to Clermont this weekend as he bids to solve Montpellier's dire away form which he likened to playing in "flip-flops".
Although the Top 14 leaders have won a perfect eight from eight at their Altrad stadium fortress this season, they have tasted success only twice from seven games on their travels.
And although 55-year-old Cotter is looking forward to "seeing old colleagues, friends and the supporters" he's wary of his team's travel blues ruining the occasion.
"Of course it's a chance for reunions, but frankly, so far our away matches have been awful," former Scotland coach Cotter told rugbyrama.fr.
"Every time we've gone away this season we've done so in flip-flops!
"I've warned the lads: if it's sunny here (in Montpellier) then it's cold over there - if we go wearing flip-flops we'll get cold feet!"
Cotter spent eight years as Clermont head coach after moving from Crusaders, where he was in charge of the forwards.
He led the club to the Top 14 title in 2010 as well as three other finals. In Europe, Clermont won the 2007 Challenge Cup and reached the 2013 Champions Cup final.
"I think I lost four home matches in eight seasons, so obviously I've got mostly good memories from there," added Cotter.
"I had good people around me, my family liked the Auvergne [region] but now what interests me is Montpellier,"
Unlike Montpellier, champions Clermont have had a dreadful domestic season, even though they and not their visitors have made it through to the Champions Cup quarter-finals.
They are down in 10th place having failed to win a single match on their travels and currently sit seven points off a play-off spot.
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By dishing out a second home defeat of the season to the 'Vulcans' on Sunday, Montpellier could help prevent a serious rival from challenging for the title.
"If they don't win this match, they'll lose another opportunity to climb the table," added Cotter.
"We realise that, but there's no pressure on us [to stop Clermont reaching the play-offs],"
With all eyes on the major clash of the weekend, New Zealand great Dan Carter could help Racing 92 go top.
The third-placed 2016 champions travel to fourth-placed 2013 title-winners Castres in a match that could see either move to the league summit.
Carter made his return to action following a knee injury last weekend. Having also picked up a calf problem earlier in the season, he's played only five times.
Carter helped Racing qualify for the Champions Cup quarter-finals with a narrow 23-20 win at Leicester - the first time in his career he'd played a rugby match in the snow.
The two sides have already met three times this season having featured in the same European group, with Racing winning their two home encounters but blowing a late 13-6 lead away to Castres in December to lose 16-13.
It's a return to domestic action following two weeks of European competition and ahead of the start of the Six Nations next weekend.
Many teams will be missing several top stars away on international duty.
#TOP14 | Coup de ♥— TOP 14 Rugby (@top14rugby) January 25, 2018
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Second-place La Rochelle will expect a festive atmosphere at their Marcel Deflandre stadium against lowly Brive having qualified for the Champions Cup knock-out stages last weekend in their first participation.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Saturday, January 27
Toulon v Bordeaux-Begles (13.45)
La Rochelle v Brive (17.00)
Lyon v Agen (17.00)
Toulouse v Oyonnax (17.00)
Castres v Racing 92 (19.45)
Sunday, January 28
Stade Francais v Pau (11.30)
Clermont v Montpellier (15.50)