Montpellier will attempt to put this season’s domestic troubles aside when they make their Heineken Cup debut against current title holders Leinster this weekend.
They will be hoping that they can rediscover the kind of form that took them to the Top 14 final where they lost to four-time European champions Toulouse.
Whilst Leinster are battle-hardened European campaigners and showed great resilience to come back from 22-6 down at half-time to beat Northampton 33-22 in last season’s final, Montpellier could pull off a shock.
They will have their World Cup absentees back and will hope fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc will be in as scintillating form as he was in the 8-7 final final defeat by the All Blacks where his introduction sparked the French into their best rugby of the tournament.
Should he manage to do so it will get the majority of the 32,000 spectators in the stadium belonging to the football side behind them and could rattle a Leinster side who will be without inspirational duo, Brian O’Driscoll and Shane Horgan.
Indeed this will be a good test for the Irish province as O’Driscoll – who will travel and perform waterboy duties during the match – and Horgan are slated to be out for six and four months respectively so they will be shorn of their talents for most of the pool stage.
Leinster coach Joe Schmidt admits that his champions face a demanding challenge against a side that will be packed with talent.
“They’ve made a big thing of the first game against us and are looking to sell out Stade de le Mosson,” he said.
“I think that’s a big thing for them.
“They’ve haven’t started the French league well (they’ve won just two of their nine matches) but they’ve been deprived of a number of quality players and that’s been frustrating for them.
“But at the same time, Marmuka Gorgodze’s, Sakiusa Matadigo’s, Francois Trinh-Duc and Fulgence Ouedraogo should all be back for them and they have got some good imports.
“I know Fabien Galthie (Montpellier head coach) pretty well and spent a bit of time with him at Stade Francais about six years ago. I know a little bit about how he thinks and he’d know every bit as much about me.”
Galthie’s fellow head coach Eric Bechu said that he hoped the side would do themselves justice.
“Now we have achieved our goal of being in the European Cup, we are going to try and do something memorable,” said Bechu.
“But If I was to say we would try and qualify for the knockout stages with Leinster in the pool, you would think I was mad and you would be correct,” he added disarmingly.
Unlike Montpellier, Biarritz are experienced European Cup campaigners – they have lost in two finals – but they equally need a boost this weekend after a disastrous opening to their Top 14 campaign which sees them lie bottom with just one win in nine games.
A trip to Welsh side Ospreys would not usually be thought of as the best way to remedy a poor run, but Biarritz stalwart Imanol Harinordoquy told Rugby365 this could be the best way to turn their season round.
“We have nothing to lose against a side that on paper is stronger than us,” said the 31-year-old No.8, who was outstanding in the World Cup final.
“The championship has been a little bit complicated for us but hopefully this will give us some much-needed oxygen.”
Ospreys also go into the clash with all their players from the World Cup back in contention with some of them having played in the 9-9 draw with the Scarlets last weekend.
Ospreys coach Sean Holley saw much to be encouraged by that performance.
“We have to go into the Biarritz game knowing we haven’t won – we haven’t lost, which is important – but there was intensity around the tackle area, the Scarlets approach to it, it was good preparation for us.”