South African World Cup winning coach Jake White faces a baptism of fire when he takes charge of Montpellier this weekend against European and French champions Toulon.
White was brought in by president Mohed Altrad, ostensibly as a consultant, to replace the suspended Fabien Galthie in an aim to stem the tide of a rapidly unravelling season.
Montpellier have lost eight of their last nine matches in European and domestic action, being knocked out of the Champions Cup in the process and dropping to eighth in the Top 14.
White, who also coached the Sharks and Brumbies in Super Rugby, will be tasked with trying to overcome a Toulon side reeling from their abject showing at Stade Francais last time out, where they lost 30-6.
But he is far from daunted.
“People say Toulon are champions, Heineken (European) champions, fantastic, they’ve got a great team, great players,” Said White.
“My talk to the players and to the coaches is that’s why we’re involved in rugby: we want to play Toulon on Saturday, surely.
“If we want to play Montauban on a field with five people watching and a dog, then we’re not interested.
“It’s something I’ve felt since I’ve been a little boy: this is what we get challenged for, and I mean how nice is it to challenge yourself against a top team at home in front of your home crowd.
“I’ve got respect for them (Toulon), they’ve done well and obviously it’s a great challenge, but that’s what makes us get up in the morning: we want to be part of this challenge.”
– clash of titans –
In other games third placed Clermont host Toulouse on Sunday in a clash of the titans.
Toulouse have struggled in the league this season but held on to gain a morale-boosting 15-9 win over Racing-Metro last weekend while Clermont fell to a shocking 16-13 defeat at Lyon.
Both have been mightily impressive in Europe this season, with Toulouse boasting the only 100 precent record and Clermont coming off back-to-back, home-and-away wins over Munster in December.
Yet they have both been underachieving at home with Toulouse having lost their previous two games before stopping the rot against Racing.
“We’re delighted to win after two defeats,” said Toulouse head coach Guy Noves following that game.
“We’ve stopped a new series (of defeats) and that’s very good before going for a stroll in Clermont.”
Both Toulon and Clermont will be eying top spot in the table if current leaders Stade Francais slip up at Lyon on Friday night.
Stade will be looking to consolidate their lead but with a top six finish the main priority for the club, who last season led the table three games further into the campaign but still missed out on the play-offs, the Parisians will be rotating their squad.
“Those who’ve played a lot the last two games will rest this week and those who’ve played less will be there on Friday,” said South African centre Meyer Bosman.
Coach Gonzalo Quesada is keeping back some of his armoury ahead of the reception of Castres a week later.
Castres, the 2013 champions, have a great chance to climb off the bottom of the table when they host second-from-bottom La Rochelle on Saturday.
A victory in that fixture would do the trick while they could also climb out the relegation zone if Stade also beat Lyon.
Racing host free-scoring Bordeaux-Begles, who ran in seven tries against Brive last weekend, while the latter host Bayonne and Oyonnax are on the road at Grenoble.
Fixtures (all times GMT):
Lyon v Stade Francais (1945)
Brive v Bayonne, Castres v La Rochelle, Grenoble v Oyonnax (all 1400), Montpellier v Toulon (1535), Racing Metro v Bordeaux-Begles (1335)
Clermont v Toulouse (2000)