Having failed in Europe, Toulouse are aiming to save their season as they host Racing-Metro in Friday's first Top 14 play-off.
Having failed in Europe, Toulouse are aiming to save their season as they host Racing-Metro at a sold-out Stade Ernest Wallon in Friday's first Top 14 play-off.
Almost exactly a year to the day, these teams face off in a rematch of last season's play-off at the same venue. Last year Toulouse won 33-19 to qualify for their 20th consecutive semi-final.
A shot at extended that record to 21 looked on shaky ground just a couple of weeks ago but, having misfired for much of the domestic season and after suffering a humiliating European exit at the hands of Munster, Toulouse have found some form when it counts.
A big win over Grenoble last saw week saw les Toulousains snatch a home play-off from the hands of Racing, who enjoyed the best second half of the season of club team in the Top 14 as their expensively-assembled squad has finally gelled.
The fact that Toulouse will be at home is massively significant since les Rouge et Noir have been woeful on the road this term with just one victory – at relegated Biarritz – on their travels in France.
But with a near-perfect home record over the last four years, Guy NovÃ¨s's' team will start as favourites. His Racing counterpart Laurent Travers claims his team have 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!”
Almost equally significant, when you consider how badly most French teams travel , is the fact that both semi-finals will be at a neutral venue in Lille.
The winner of Friday's match between in Toulouse will go on to play Toulon at Lille's Grand Stade on May 16.
Racing have not made the play-off since their creation in 2010 and a thumping loss to Montpellier last week brought a five-game winning run to screeching halt.
Les Franciliens have done some soul searching this week and a training ground scuffle between Jonathan Sexton and Juandre Kruger is both a sign of the pressure on the squad and their determination to arrive in the Ville Rose fired up.
Racing have been very good on the road this year and with eight wins from their last ten matches, will see last week's failure as a fixable hiccup.
Toulouse are without France wingers Maxime MÃ©dard and Vincent Clerc. Racing are missing a French international wing of their own after Marc Andreu was ruled out with a shoulder injury that requires surgery.
Toulouse have made nine changes to the side that beat Grenoble, three of which are positional switches.
Up front, Cyril Baille replaces Schalk Ferreira at loosehead. A new second row sees Yoann Maestri and Patricio Albacete come in for the injured Romain Millo-Chluski and Joe Tekori.
Yacouba Camara is promoted from the bench to start ahead of Yannick Nyanga on the side of the scrum.
Jano Vermaak comes into the starting line-up at scrum half as Jean-Marc Doussain shifts to fly-half, and Luke Mcalister goes to 12 while Clement Poitrenaud moves to full-back. Yoann Huget replaces Clerc on the right wing.
There are four changes to the Racing starting XV. Bernard le Roux returns to the back row, meaning Antoine Battut moves to the number six jersey and Wenceslas Lauret drops to the bench.
Juan Imhoff takes over from Andreu on the left wing while Henry Chavancy starts ahead of Fabrice Estebanez at outside centre. Benjamin Fall returns from injury on the bench.
Players to watch:
For Toulouse: After nearly four months on the sidelines with a biceps injury, world-class flanker Thierry Dusautoir made his return last week. With the June internationals just around the corner, the France skipper will be eager to put stretch his legs and land some big tackles.
For Racing Metro: Big occassions call for big performance's from expensive players and Jonathan Sexton needs to show owner Jacky Lorenzetti why he is second-highest paid player in the Top 14 (behind Jonny Wilkinson). He scored a try in Racing's big win over Toulouse earlier this year and will be hoping to put on a similar display.
Head-to-head: With both side's missing their first-choice hookers, the battle at the set pieces will be interesting. Georgian international Jaba Bregvadze is a reliable line-out thrower but will be tested at scrum time by a former Toulouse stalwart in Virgile Lacombe.
Form: The last time these teams met Racing won 25 -5 in Paris but Racing have never won in Toulouse in 13 attempts. The visitors have eight wins from their last ten matches but were thumped 44-10 in Montpellier last week. Toulouse are unbeaten in three games having crushed Grenoble last week following a draw in Oyonnax. Toulouse's only loss at home this season was against Montpellier in February.
Racing Metro 25-5 Toulouse
Toulouse 30-6 Racing Metro
Prediction: Toulouse have lost just twice at home in 53 games over four years and with a bunch of their big guns back from injury it's hard to bet against the hosts. Toulouse by seven points.
Toulouse: 15 Clement Poitrenaud, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Florian Fritz, 12 Luke Mcalister, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Jean Marc Doussain, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Thierry Dusautoir, 6 Yacouba Camara 5 Joe Tekori, 4 Yoann Maestri, 3 Census Johnston, 2 Jaba Bregvadze, 1 Cyril Baille.
Replacements: 16 Christopher Tolofua, 17 Gurthro Steenkamp, 18 Joe Tekori , 19 Yannick Nyanga, 20 Timoci Matanavou, 21 Gael Fickou, 22 Akapusi Qera, 23 Yohann Montes.
Racing Metro: 15 Juan Martin Hernandez, 14 Adrien Plante, 13 Henry Chavancy, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Marc Andreu, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Jacques Cronje, 7 Bernard le Roux. 6 Antoine Battut, 5 Francois van der Merwe, 4 Juandre Kruger, 3 Luc Ducalcon, 2 Virgile Lacombe, 1 Julien Brugnaut.
Replacements: 16 Jeremie Maurouard, 17 Eddy Ben Arous, 18 Fabrice Metz, 19 Wenceslas Lauret, 20 Mike Phillips, 21 Fabrice Estebanez, 22 Benjamin Fall , 23 Brian Mujati.
Date: Friday, May 9
Venue: Stade Ernest Wallon, Toulouse
Kick-off: 20:45 local (18:45 GMT)
Referee: JÃ©rÃ´me GarcÃ¨s