(Reuters) - Castres Olympique will face Montpellier on Friday in a repeat of the 2018 Top 14 final at the Stade de France in Paris as they look to bring home their sixth French championship title.
Montpellier will have the chance to avenge their defeat from four years ago and to make it third time lucky having lost their previous two finals.
The game is the culmination of a long journey for two teams who have undergone large rebuilding jobs under head coaches Pierre-Henry Broncan and Philippe Saint-Andre.
When Broncan replaced Mauricio Reggiardo at Castres in 2020-21, they were a shadow of their former selves as they sat 13th in the table. But by the end of the season the team had climbed up to seventh -- one place away from playoff spots.
Former France head coach Saint-Andre took the reins of Montpellier around the same time after a coaching hiatus of nearly six years following New Zealand's thrashing of France in the 2015 World Cup quarter-finals.
But he quickly showed he was eager to prove himself again, leading Montpellier to their second European Rugby Challenge Cup title the same year.
"Philippe Saint-Andre's Montpellier are not the same team as in 2018... it is apparent that this club will do everything to win its first title," Castres president Pierre-Yves Revol told the club website.
"We must not lose an ounce of humility in the approach to this meeting. Castres have never won anything without giving 100%."
Saint-Andre said the odds were slightly in favour of their opponents as they had more downtime ahead of the final -- one of the upsides of topping the table.
"It's a race against the clock. We try to regenerate, regain energy," he told French local newspaper Midi Libre.
Montpellier flanker Fulgence Ouedraogo, who played in the 2018 final, did not make the starting lineup ahead of his retirement.
"Fufu (Ouedraogo) is a lord of rugby, always precise in training, very important for the locker room. It was not the most pleasant talk I had in my career. He took it upon himself," Saint-Andre said of the former France international.
Castres flyhalf Benjamin Urdapilleta will hope to repeat his influential performance in the 2018 final in which he scored 22 points.
(Reporting by Silvia Recchimuzzi in Gdansk, editing by Ed Osmond)