Chris Farrell and James Hart set for action as Grenoble hunt Top 14 leaders
Grenoble are attracting international stars but will not be busting their budget to secure Dan Carter next season
'It's starting to feel like home now,' Grenoble backs coach Mike Prendergast tells us as he shelters indoors. 'It has been cold for a few weeks now but the rain has arrived now. It's lashing out there.'
The former Munster scrum-half (pictured below getting tackled by UL Bohs' JJ Hanrahan and Sean Henry in March 2013) is midway into his second season with the Top 14 side and plotting a better return than the white-knuckle finish to 2013/14. Grenoble were in the league's top four at one stage but went on a damaging, losing run that saw them just about avoid relegation on the final day of the season.
Head coach Bernard Jackman recruited well over the summer and added the likes of Alapati Ratini, Jonathan Wisniewski and former Ulster centre Chris Farrell to the squad. Grenoble are currently fifth in the league, having beaten big-spending Racing Métro and Toulouse this season.
'We're getting no break over Christmas,' says Prendergast. 'We play Stade Francais on Friday - that game is on Sky Sports - La Rochelle on the 28th then we have Oyonnax at home and Bordeaux away. The table will really take shape after this block of games so we'll know where we are.'
Prendergast adds, 'We were going well up to Christmas last year but it was then that we started our slide down the table. We had a small enough squad so injuries didn't help. The squad is slightly larger this season. We don't have that financial clout of Toulon or Racing Métro so our strength and conditioning staff have done a good job at looking after the lads.
'To be honest, we took our eye off the ball a bit last season and maybe figured we were better off than we actually were. This league is so tight that two or three bad results could drop you to ninth or 10th so we have to stay focused over Christmas.'
Grenoble will name their starting XV for the Friday evening match, at Stade des Alpes, on Thursday afternoon. The Irish duo of Farrell and James Hart are pressing to be included from the off. 'James has been going well,' says Prendergast. 'He has a massive kicking ratio off the tee but his all-round game has improved.
'His game awareness is getting better and he is a guy who is definitely on the up. He is very honest and willing to work hard. Chris has been a great signing for us. He is a big, strong lad but one with good hands as well. He gets over the gain-line and suits our style of game.'
The club is currently in the process of securing its top talents ahead of next season and, Prendergast reveals, on the look-out for 'two or three' new signings to drive the club forward. Asked if the club were willing to explode their budget to secure Dan Carter's services, he remarks, 'I don't think so. We'll leave Racing and Toulon to fight it out. We're happy enough with Jonathan.'
A home win on Friday will be enough for Grenoble to claim third spot ahead of the rest of the weekend's fixtures. Prendergast insists the club are focused purely on whatever game comes next on the calendar but believes the current squad are more than capable of breaching the top six - and earning a Champions Cup spot - by the season's end.