Put it however you like, but Clermont can’t quite shake the doubts over their ability to deliver in highly stressful situations.

The last three seasons have seen the Auvergne-based club lose two Top 14 semi-finals and one quarter-final, a Heineken Cup final and two European semi-finals. They’ve had no silverware since Joe Schmidt helped them to domestic success in 2010.

All that and they’ve been perhaps the best side to watch in Europe. Clermont’s blend of offloading, ruck-smashing, high-tempo pick and jams, side-stepping and pace has made for joyous viewing at times.

Vern Cotter has vacated the head coach’s position, with former attack and backs coach Franck Azéma stepping in as his replacement this season. However, it is the influence of new forwards coach Jono Gibbes that may have the greatest effect of all.

The ex-All Black knows a thing or two about winning titles in Europe. Gibbes helped Leinster to three Heineken Cups at Leinster, the first under Michael Cheika before Schmidt oversaw the 2011 and 2012 successes.

Last summer, he departed Ireland in search of a fresh challenge, which Clermont-Ferrand’s premier rugby club certainly provides. ASM’s issues in knock-out fixtures have never been technical or physical, rather mental and, occasionally, tactical.

Gibbes was a major success with Leinster before joining Clermont. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Gibbes should provide reinforcement on both those fronts later in the season. For now, Clermont are moving along comfortably. Rarely have they had problems in the pool stages of European competition, winning 11 of those 12 fixtures in the last two seasons.

Leading the Top 14 until last weekend’s defeat away to Toulon, Clermont have scored 29 tries in their 12 domestic games so far. A narrow defeat away to Saracens in the Champions Cup was followed up by an entertaining dismantling of Sale Sharks.

Summer signings Camille Lopez, Sebastien Vahaamahina and Nick Abendanon have added new layers of quality, even if Welsh centre Jonathan Davies has not ignited just yet.

Lopez’s performances at out-half mean Clermont are no longer reliant on Brock James, a much-maligned figure. The introduction of fullback Abendanon as a second playmaker has seen Clermont’s attacking options develop even further, with the former Bath man often popping up as first receiver.

Munster captain Peter O’Mahony says this weekend’s fixture at Thomond Park is “nearly on a par with an international game,” a sentiment that is hard to disagree with when taking into account names such as Damien Chouly, Jamie Cudmore, Wesley Fofana, Naipolioni Nalaga and Thomas Domingo.

O’Mahony believes the new coaching team of Azéma and Gibbes have built on Clermont’s existing strengths, making the French side an even more potent threat.

“I think they’ve stuck to what’s worked for them at times, but they’ve brought a different dimension too.

Clermont saw off Munster when the sides last met in 2013’s Heineken Cup semi-finals. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“I think their counter-attacking ability with guys like Fofana, [Aurélien] Rougerie, they’re just dangerous all over. It doesn’t have to be set-piece, it can be broken play; you turn over a ball and you’ll be under pressure immediately. That’s the way international-standard teams go.”

Dealing with the quality of Clermont’s squad, both individually and as a team, is clearly demanding. More encouragingly for Munster is their record of having won all 23 of their home European ties against French opposition.

The southern province are favourites at this early stage of the week, but head coach Anthony Foley stresses that Clermont don’t live up to old cliché about the travelling French.

“Clermont aren’t that side.

“They’ll come across and look for four points. We’ve got to be aware of that, that people don’t arrive to Thomond Park this weekend and assume that they’re a typical French side.”

Ulster aiming to be ‘squeaky clean’ with Tuohy and Pienaar back on boardMunster may be forced into midfield switch against Lopez-led Clermont

Click Here: canterbury-bankstown bulldogs rugby store