International scrum-half Morgan Parra (left) is set to play for the first time in two months after recovering from injury
Paris (AFP) - Former Australia captain Ben Mowen looks set to be given his Top 14 debut by Montpellier coach Fabien Galthie in the crowd pleasing away clash with unbeaten Clermont on Friday.
Mowen, who announced in January that after just three months in the post he would be giving up the Wallabies captaincy and his chances of leading them at next year's World Cup by joining Montpellier, will have a lot to live up to as he has been brought in to replace the iconic Georgian flanker Mamuka Gorgodze, who left for Toulon.
Mowen, 29, did not get any playing time in Montpellier's first two matches, a loss to Racing-Metro and a narrow win over Grenoble.
However, with Galthie's side having failed to convince in either match, maintaining the tradition of slow starts under the former France captain since he took over in 2010, the high-profile Clermont game looks the ideal platform to deploy his many talents.
Mowen, who performed outstandingly for the Wallabies last year and as captain enjoyed a successful November tour of the northern hemisphere, will be keen to make a good impression instantly in front of a coach who was the reason for him choosing Montpellier ahead of other sides such as Top 14 and European champions Toulon.
"I opted for Montpellier because this is a side making huge strides," he told L'Equipe newspaper earlier this year.
"I did not talk to Fabien Galthie, but I spoke a lot to Jake White (the 2007 World Cup winning coach of the Springboks and Mowen's coach at the Super 15 side Brumbies). He told me that Fabien was one of the best coaches in the world and he deserved one day to be in charge of France."
Along with Mowen, Galthie is also likely to hand first starts to other recruits from the close season, Antoine Battut and Kiwi lock Tom Donnelly and he will be expecting to see an improvement in the team's performance which he said lacked energy and power in their match with Grenoble.
Clermont, who failed to give departing coach Vern Cotter a trophy last season, knocked out by Castres in the Top 14 play-offs and overwhelmed by Saracens in the European Cup semi-finals, gained a huge morale boost in claiming their first away win in eight months against Brive last weekend having opened with a hard fought victory over Grenoble.
However, they will face Montpellier without two of their key players over the past few seasons as former France backrow forward Julien Bonnaire and Fijian wing Napolioni Nalaga suffered injuries in the Brive game.
Clermont backs coach Franck Azema while happy that his side had ended the barren run away from home that stretched back six matches to a victory over Perpignan last November is a long way from being satisfied about their overall level of performance.
"We mustn't get carried away with ourselves, we haven't won the Top 14," said the 43-year-old. "Our performance against Brive, despite winning the game, was far from perfect."
Elsewhere the two sides topping the table at this early stage of proceedings Toulouse and Toulon -- who both have nine points -- face very different challenges on Saturday.
Toulouse may have had a dreadful away record last season but it would be a major shock if they don't come away with a bonus point win at newboys La Rochelle, who are finding life in the elite very taxing after losing their opening two games including a 60-19 thrashing at the hands of Toulon last weekend.
Toulon face a tough assignment with a trip to Racing-Metro, who will be bidding to rebound from defeat by Raphael Ibanez's Bordeaux last weekend and will also hope not to be too distracted by ongoing confusion over the long-term future of their Irish fly-half Jonny Sexton, who it is claimed has decided to return to his home Irish province of Leinster next year.
Friday (1845GMT kick-off)
Clermont v Montpellier
Saturday (kick-offs all 1630GMT unless stated)
(1245) La Rochelle v Toulouse, Castres v Bayonne, Grenoble v Bordeaux-Begles, Lyon v Brive, Oyonnax v Stade Francais, (1845) Racing-Metro v Toulon