Ospreys head coach Lyn Jones believes his players are ready for the “extra dimension” of a Heineken Cup showdown with French championship leaders Stade Francais.
The Welsh region will move top of Pool Three if they can repeat last season’s Liberty Stadium success against Stade tomorrow, although their quarter-final hopes could still hinge on beating English champions Sale Sharks in Stockport next Saturday.
Jones said: “All games are big, but this match clearly has an extra dimension given the closely-contested nature of this group and the quality of our opposition.
“Stade will be doubly determined to set the record straight after last season’s result at the Liberty Stadium, but we go into this game knowing it is within our capability to win it.
“We can have confidence approaching this fixture, not just off the back of last year’s result, but also on the back of the narrow defeat in Paris last October.
“It was one of our better performances, although without success, but it indicated that we can match the best teams in European rugby.”
Ospreys wings Shane Williams and Nikki Walker face late fitness tests - Richard Mustoe and Stefan Terblanche are on standby – but Wales pair Sonny Parker (knee) and Jonathan Thomas (shoulder) both require another week’s recovery from their injuries and miss out.
Jones added: “Being successful in Europe is all about the majority of your squad being injury-free, as this stage – the Heineken Cup – is totally unforgiving of any weakness in your line-up.
“We will have to perform across the park, as we did last year at the Liberty Stadium, if we are to get anything out of this match.”
Stade centre Brian Liebenberg and prop Sylvain Marconnet are also battling for full fitness, and the Parisians are in no doubt what will be required against a confident Ospreys side.
“If we don’t meet them in the one-on-one battles, it is not worth flying over there,” said Stade’s assistant coach Fabrice Landreau.
“This game will be a battle between the forwards, and our ability to stop them going forward.”
European champions and Pool Four leaders Munster face Bourgoin tomorrow – but in Switzerland, rather than on French soil at Stade Pierre Rajon.
Bourgoin have moved their penultimate group game across the border to Stade de Geneve, which will become the 80th different stadium to host a Heineken Cup match.
Munster, four points clear of second-placed Leicester, include number eight Denis Leamy in their starting line-up following his recovery from a stomach bug. Hooker Frankie Sheahan, meanwhile, makes a 50th Heineken Cup appearance.
Northampton, on course for a quarter-final spot from Pool Six, have scrum-half Mark Robinson restored to full fitness ahead of tomorrow’s encounter with Borders at Galashiels.
Even though Saints’ Guinness Premiership clash against Bristol was postponed last Sunday due to a waterlogged pitch, Robinson would not have played because of knee trouble.
In addition to Robinson reclaiming his starting berth, Johnny Howard features on the wing instead of Matthieu Bourret, who is not registered for the Heineken Cup, leaving Ben Cohen at outside centre.
In the second-tier European Challenge Cup tomorrow, Saracens should take another step towards last-eight status by overcoming Vicarage Road visitors Narbonne.