PREVIEW: Clermont and Racing feeling the chill in Top 14
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Two powers of French rugby are feeling an icy chill and it isn't the Siberian "Beast from the East" that has frozen France, but the draught from the Top 14 trap door.
Clermont, the reigning French champions, were humiliated at home last Saturday by the bottom team, Oyonnax, who had only won once in the league all season.
Clermont are 10th in the table on 32 points, 18 points out of sixth, the last of the places that earns a berth in the title play-offs, but only seven clear of 13th and a relegation play-off.
They entertain another team smarting from a home defeat, La Rochelle, on Sunday.
Racing are even worse off, after throwing away a 16-point lead to lose at home to lowly Agen last week, the 2015 French champion are one place and four points behind Clermont.
A loss at buoyant Oyonnax could, if other results go the wrong way, sink Racing into the bottom two.
Clermont have a catastrophic injury list. This week scrumhalf Charly Trussardi and back Setariki Tuicuvu joined 15 others, including a string of internationals, on the "hospital" page the club have created on their web site.
If Six Nations coaches are generous, Clermont might get back Scottish scrumhalf Greig Laidlaw and France wing Remy Grosso. The Australian back Malietoa Hingano should also be back from his wedding.
"We have to heal our wounds," said coach Franck Azema.
Which raises the question of what, and when, they are healing for.
Clermont's defence of their Top 14 title is probably over, but their pursuit of a first ever European Champions Cup continues.
Clermont lost the final of that competition to Saracens last May, their third defeat in the title game in five seasons. They host Racing 92 in the quarterfinals on April 1.
For now, Clermont need to revive their form and confidence and avoid being dragged into the relegation dogfight. Last week's loss to Oyonnax was a club record sixth straight.
"There is clearly a confidence deficit," said club captain Alexandre Lapandry. "I've been at Montpellier for 11 years and I cannot remember a similar situation."
Sunday's opponents, La Rochelle, also suffered a nasty shock last week, losing at home for the first time in two years. The defeat, to one of their top-six rivals, Toulon, dropped La Rochelle from third place to sixth.
Last season they finished top of the table only to fall at the first post-season hurdle.
"We have to get our heads in the right place to go and grab qualification," said centre Pierre Aguillon.
"Last year we didn't lose a match at home but we won nothing at the end. Perhaps it would be better to finish sixth and end up with the title."
"It was a defeat that hurt but we must use that to bounce back."
Stade Francais captain Alexandre Flanquart was also hoping to use their home defeat, to Agen, as motivation.
"We failed everywhere. We were catastrophic in defence," he said. "We have to go to Oyonnax, and into every other match, on a mission. We don't have the choice anymore."
Leaders Montpellier, who pulled six points clear with an ugly one-point home win over Bordeaux-Begles last week, visit struggling Agen on Saturday.
Lyon v Toulon
Agen v Montpellier
Castres v Pau
Racing 92 v Brive
Bordeaux-Begles v Toulouse
Oyonnax v Stade Francais
Clermont v La Rochelle