Most of the 1,000 supporters would have expected to make the journey to the middle of France on the back of a win in Thomond Park last weekend but the immediate upshot of losing to a French side for the first time at the Limerick venue is that they have to win at Stade Marcel Michelin tomorrow.
That shouldn’t be a problem you might think, given that Castres, currently bottom of the Top 14, and a Montpellier side who have lost half their games this season, have managed to win at Stade Marcel Michelin in the past seven months.
But those setbacks, of course, were way out of kilter with what usually happens in the neatly appointed 18,000 capacity stadium adjacent to the huge Michelin tyre plant.
They had gone unbeaten there for 77 games over a five-year period before Castres stunned them in the play-offs at the end of last season.
They are one of the few clubs in France who treat Europe with something close to the same respect they have for their beloved Top 14. But they never won the Heineken Cup, and their success in Europe so far has been confined to two Challenge Cup wins, in 1999 and 2007.
Their sole Heineken Cup final appearance was a dismal affair as they threw away a winning hand to Toulon on a 16-15 at the Aviva Stadium two years ago.
Their supporters, ‘The Yellow Army’, travelled in force to Thomond Park last weekend more appreciative than most of what it means to have your home ground a fortress. No wonder, then, they celebrated wildly in Limerick.
“I’m not sure if all of them have come home yet! There is still no sign of some of them,” said Yannis Cante, manager of Café Pascal. “A big crowd made the trip, it really has set it up for the return match.”
His pub, owned by former Clermont lock Serge Ricou when the club was know as Montferrand, will be a hive of activity this weekend, with big screens inside and out. It is located in the centre of Clermont, on Place de la Victoire beside the Notre-Dame-de-l’Assumption cathedral and a popular haunt for visiting supporters as well as the ‘Yellow Army’.
Right in front of is the Christmas market with 70 timber huts and a short walk away is Place de Jaude, a big open square with a massive ferris wheel erected for Christmas. And it is here that something unique will take place tomorrow, when thousands of Munster and Clermont supporters will meet and march in unison from there all the way to the stadium on the 20-minute walk along Avenue de la Republic.
“This is the first time that the two sets of supporters have joined up like this to go to the match together. It will be the ‘Yellow Army’ welcoming Munster’s famous ‘Red Army and for the first time in Clermont, supporters will march in a festive atmosphere and friendly rugby spirit together to the sounds of our local bands and drums,” said Thierry Fraisse of the ASM Supporters Club.
Clermont supporters know Munster would dearly love to get revenge at Stade Marcel Michelin and the city in the middle of the Massif Central will be ablaze with yellow and red.
The city’s pubs sought a licence extension to 4am but were turned down. “We will be open until 2am and will have food and drink available throughout at special prices for the match. Everybody is looking forward to the game and regardless of the result there’ll be a great atmosphere and a big welcome for the Irish,” said Cante.
So, food and drink, presents from the Christmas market outside, a quick prayer in the cathedral and an unique march to the stadium. But will it be to the guillotine or to glory they march?