Clermont aim to bury Euro woes against Castres in French Top 14
Castres' scrum-half Rory Kockott (R) is stopped by ASM Clermont's flanker Damien Chouly during their French Top 14 rugby union match, at the Michelin stadium in Clermont-Ferrand, central France, on April 11, 2014 - by Thierry Zoccolan
Clermont finished third in the regular season, meaning a play-off for the right to play a semi-final against second-placed Montpellier.
The winner of Friday's match between Toulouse and Racing-Metro will go on to play mighty Toulon in the second semi-final on the weekend of May 16-17 in Lille.
For Clermont, the play-offs offer considerable solace after a humbling at the hands of Saracens in the European Cup.
The French club enjoy a four-year winning run at home, which now extends to 77 matches, but Saracens put them to the sword in Twickenham, running out 46-6 victors in a one-sided semi-final in the continent's flagship club competition.
"The whole club was affected, it's normal, the whole region as well because we feel that there's a strong identity behind us," acknowledged Clermont backs coach Franck Azema.
"When there's joy it's shared, and when there's hardship or frustration, it's the same.
"But the best thing is to rebound in the Top 14 play-offs. Even a one-point victory would suffice, but once again it'll be tough."
Azema added: "We played Castres a month ago and it was complicated. We suffered for an hour before making the difference.
"But we work all season for these knock-out matches, we know the cards will be re-dealt from this weekend.
"We play Castres, the defending champions, at home, and I hope we'll be able to win."
The play-off, Azema said, was "a good thing for us because we need to string together matches to have a winning spirit.
"We've worked a lot physically to get to this period. I don't think we're too done-in, rather there are some players fresher than last season, and I hope that'll be the case on Saturday because it's now that we have to push the limits and enjoy ourselves together."
Castres have a much-changed backroom staff since their victory last season, joint coaches Laurent Labit and Laurent Travers having departed for Racing-Metro.
The team now has a 33-year-old manager in former captain Matthias Rolland, a 43-year-old backs coach in David Darricarrere and Serge Milhas, 49, in charge of the forwards.
"It's true that it's a new trio," said Rolland. "But within that trio, we're not out-and-out novices."
All three have had experiences of play-offs, albeit in different levels of professional rugby, but insist that one thing has been absent in the build-up to the play-offs.
"We want to try not to pile on the pressure throughout the week," said Darricarrere.
Toulouse, who also suffered a humiliating 47-23 European exit at Munster's hands, squeezed in as the sixth and final club in the play-offs and host Racing-Metro, who enjoyed an ever-improving second half of the season as their expensively-assembled squad started to gel.
Guy Noves' team, however, will start as favourites, Racing counterpart Laurent Travers claiming his team had a "92 percent chance of losing".
"In eight quarter-finals, only once has a team won away from home," said Travers.
"That means a 12 percent chance. If you go and play away against a team like Toulouse, who are used to competing in play-offs, with the experience and talent of their players, you drop to eight percent.
"So we have a 92 percent chance of losing!"
Quarter-finals (all times GMT)
Toulouse v Racing-Metro (1430)
Clermont v Castres (1845)
Semi-finals, at Lille's Grand Stade
Friday, May 16
Toulon v Toulouse or Racing-Metro (1845)
Saturday, May 17
Montpellier v Clermont or Castres (1430)
Final, at Paris's Stade de France (1900)
Saturday, May 31