PREVIEW: Cotter puts Montpellier style to test in France
TOP 14 SPOTLIGHT: Montpellier's New Zealand coach Vern Cotter insists being French Top 14 leaders is meaningless unless the club can translate their dominance into a first national league title.
Cotter's men can virtually wrap up a semifinal spot with victory on Saturday over three-time European champions Toulon.
The match has been given additional spice by Toulon being coached by Fabien Galthie who was in charge of Montpellier when they made the Top 14 Final in 2011, the closest the club has got to the championship.
Cotter, a former Scotland national coach and who also led Clermont to the Top 14 title in 2010 during an eight-year spell in charge, replaced South Africa's Jake White this season.
"We don't make big speeches but there is a big desire for players to do something. However, we have not achieved anything yet. We are first but it counts for nothing, it's just anecdotal," said the New Zealander.
His players have also welcomed Cotter's style, seen as the polar opposite to White's approach, viewed as more austere and rigid.
"A lot of things have changed - professionalism, group management and good humour. He knows how to reward or punish us, everything is justified and works well," said Montpellier wing Benjamin Fall.
Back-row forward Kelian Galletier has been won over by Cotter who has guided Montpellier to top spot with a six-point lead over Racing 92 with three games of the regular season remaining.
"He can be seen as tough and authoritarian, but that is not the case at all," said Galletier.
"It's more of a New Zealand style which empowers the players."
For Saturday, Cotter makes sweeping changes from the side which defeated La Rochelle 40-24 last week with Galletier, promoted to captain, Kiwi flyhalf Aaron Cruden, centre Alexandre Dumoulin and South African lock Nico Janse van Rensburg keeping their places.
Toulon will be missing All Blacks centre Malakai Fekitoa who has a thigh injury. His place will go to veteran compatriot Ma'a Nonu.
Elsewhere, defending champions Clermont, who have no hope of making the play-offs, face fellow mid-table side Bordeaux rocked by the news that their English fullback Nick Abendanon will be out of action for six months.
Abendanon suffered a shoulder injury in last week's 50-13 loss to Stade Francais and will need to undergo surgery.
His absence comes as the season fizzles out for Clermont who were eliminated by Racing 92 in the European Champions Cup quarterfinals last month, ending their last chance of silverware.
Toulon v Montpellier
Clermont v Bordeaux Begles
Pau v Agen
Oyonnax v Brive
Lyon v Stade Francais
La Rochelle v Castres
Toulouse v Racing 92