Ronan O'Gara faces a stern test of his head coaching credentials on the opening weekend of the Top 14 season.
His La Rochelle side will face an away trip to Clermont Auvergne's fearsome Stade Marcel-Michelin on Sunday, where they have lost on all 16 of their visits in the club's history.
They will also be seeking revenge for their 36-16 Challenge Cup final loss to Clermont, who were unbeaten in all but their final home game, a dead rubber, last year.
However, last year's runners-up will be weakened without ten players on World Cup warm-up duty, including half-backs Greig Laidlaw and Camille Lopez, and centre Wesley Fofana.
La Rochelle are among the less affected French clubs, with five players away with the France and Fiji squads, although centre Geoffrey Doumayrou would've added to that number but for an Achilles injury.
O'Gara and director of rugby Jono Gibbes can select from a squad which includes last season's top-scorer Ihaia West and veteran recruit Brock James, as the former Clermont player rejoins for his second spell with 'Les Maritimes'. James was one of only three signings for the wealthy Rochelais entering this season.
O'Gara's side have won both of their pre-season games, against Clermont (33-7) and Agen (35-5).
Whatever happens, Sunday's game marks the start of a marathon ten-month season which will only conclude after the Top 14 final on June 26, 2020.
ROG also learned his first Champions Cup opponents yesterday. His side will host Exeter Chiefs on Saturday, November 16, in a pool which also features Sale Sharks and Glasgow Warriors.