The European Challenge Cup offers Clermont Auvergne's star-studded side their best chance of a passport into the 2005 / 2006 Heineken Cup - but French star Tony Marsh knows that domestic pride will be a major factor in their quarter-finals clashes with Pau.
The only quarter-final to feature teams from the same nation sees Pau enjoy home advantage in the first leg at Stade Municipal du Hameau on Saturday evening with Marsh anxious for his club to build up the winning habit.
"The ticket into the Heineken Cup as the winner of the European Challenge Cup is a valuable prize and certainly worth playing for," said the New Zealand-born Test centre.
"Although there is a great deal of pressure in the Top 16 this season, the European Challenge Cup is very important to us.
"Playing under less pressure enables us to produce some great rugby and experiment with new ideas. The second leg of our semi-final against Bath in last year's tournament saw what was probably our best performance of the season in both European and domestic competition."
Clermont Auvergne - who changed their name from Montferrand in the summer - won the title in 1999 when they beat Bourgoin 35-16 in front of a bumper 31,986 crowd in Lyon.
Last May, with Marsh at the helm, they were pipped by a point by NEC Harlequins in a thrilling final in Reading.
Now they are bidding to go all the way and claim the golden Heineken Cup qualification carrot on offer for the tournament winner in late May.
France have five teams through to the last eight - Agen, Grenoble and Brive are the others - with that all-French affair guaranteeing at least one French club a place in the semi-finals.
"The game against Pau will be an interesting one," said Marsh. "We are both struggling in the Top 16 and have probably both failed to play to our potential in domestic competition so we have everything to prove.
"Although we beat Pau in the Top 16 this season it was only our first win of the season. It was also a tighter game than the 28-9 score might suggest, which we won with a score in the dying minutes of the game.
"We also had home advantage - which is very important in France - but if we can keep our heads in the away game I would say we are probably favourites on paper, although in this sort of competition anything can happen.
"We do have a strong team but we will be missing a few players who could make a big difference.
"Sebastien Viars and Olivier Magne are still not fit and Elvis Vermeulen is sadly out for the season. We also have the suspension of David Ashvetia - which is under appeal - to deal with so there are a lot of potential changes to the team."
The directors of ERC voted unanimously at a Board meeting to postpone all decisions including the release of further instalments of ERC's distributable central revenues to the six shareholder countries until 19 February next when the Board will meet again to reconsider the issue.