Perpignan need 'miracle' to avoid historic drop
Toulon's Delon Armitage (C) breaks a tackle by Perpignan's Wandile Mjekevu (L) during their French Top 14 rugby union match on April 19, 2014 at Montjuic stadium in Barcelona - by Josep Lago
That was long ago in an amateur age but since the professional era began in 1995, Perpignan have been more often fighting for titles than staving off relegation.
Top 14 winners in 2009 and finalists a year later, there is an ominous sign for Perpignan in their desperate battle for survival on Saturday.
Just as in those two finals, their opponents will be Clermont, the team that have won their last 74 home matches.
If that wasn't daunting enough for Perpignan ahead of their trip to the Marcel Michelin stadium, they currently sit second from bottom and need to overhaul either Bayonne or Oyonnax to avoid the drop.
Yet flanker Bertrand Guiry believes in miracles.
"If there's a group that can do it then maybe it's one like ours, a team that is wounded, with guys who want revenge," said Guiry.
"It would be a miracle if we managed it but we just have to not ask ourselves any questions and show great commitment. It's a game in which every individual must play his best match of the season."
The problem for Perpignan is that they come into this match in dreadful form, low on confidence and with key players such as France lock Sebastien Vahaamahina and Samoa flanker Daniel Leo out injured.
Apart from already-relegated Biarritz, the Catalans have the worst record in the Top 14 over the second half of the season and their last three away matches have seen them ship 110 points.
Perhaps their best bet at survival, though, does not even depend on them.
They are currently second from bottom but on the same number of points as Oyonnax and Bayonne.
It is the complicated French Top 14 tiebreakers system that sees them sit below their two rivals but if they finished the season level with only Bayonne, they would actually stay up on a better head-to-head game points difference.
Bayonne are at home in their final match but against champions Castres, who are fighting for a home quarter-final in the play-offs.
Oyonnax have probably the easiest tie away to Brive, one of only three teams with nothing to play for this weekend.
Unless Perpignan pull off a miracle win at Clermont, they could still survive if Oyonnax get a result while Bayonne lose at home to Castres.
As long as neither Bayonne nor Perpignan earn a losing bonus point, that would leave them level on points and competition points between them, but with Perpignan slightly ahead on match points between the pair having won 20-8 when they met in Catalonia but lost 31-20 from their clash in the Basque Country -- giving them a 40-39 aggregate advantage.
Elsewhere it is all about final play-off positions.
Stade Francais are just outside the places but level on points with sixth-placed Toulouse.
However, the Parisians face a daunting trip to leaders Toulon while the four-time European champions are at home to Grenoble, who could theoretically still get relegated if they lost and all three of Perpignan, Bayonne and Oyonnax won.
If both Stade Francais and Toulouse won then Castres could miss out on a top six spot with a defeat at Bayonne.
A draw would be enough for Toulon to secure top spot in the regular season table but Montpellier in second have to play fourth-placed Racing-Metro, who like Clermont are just a single point behind them.
The top two get a bye into the play-off semi-finals while the third and fourth placed finishers host fifth and sixth in the quarter-final play-offs.
Fixtures (all games 1245 GMT):
Brive v Oyonnax, Toulon v Stade Francais, Clermont v Perpignan, Bordeaux-Begles v Biarritz, Bayonne v Castres, Toulouse v Grenoble, Montepllier v Racing Metro