PREVIEW: Annoyed Azema stung by Lyon competition
It was less than six months ago that Clermont defeated Toulon at the Stade de France to lift a second Top 14 title in seven years and yet already Azema's side seem to have been overtaken by a changing of the guard in French rugby.
Clermont entertain leaders Lyon from the lowly position of 10th and with already 15 points to make up on the league's summit.
And what's worse, Azema knows that three of his players – props Raphael Chaume and Clement Ric, and Fiji-born France international wing Noa Nakaitaci – will be moving to Lyon next season.
"It stings, it's annoying but that's the way it is, there's competition," admitted Azema, whose side will be hoping to continue their perfect home record this season.
"These guys are coming to the end of their contracts, there's nothing strange about that [having signed for other clubs for next season].
"But what annoys me is when they [team] start contacting players with two years left on their contracts.
"That's different, as Montpellier have done. Yes, that gets on my nerves."
Montpellier are rumoured to have contacted Clermont's France international centre Wesley Fofana, even though his contract isn't up until 2019.
The 29-year-old Parisian has even admitted to having been contacted by other clubs.
Lyon lead Montpellier, who beat Clermont two weeks ago, by a single point having lost at home to third-placed La Rochelle last time out.
It's been a remarkable rise, though, for a team that was playing in the second division two years ago.
"They're doing things well, they've been building for three or four years," added Azema.
"When they were in the second division, they made some great signings.
"[Coach] Pierre [Mignoni] brought with him a project and his know-how from Toulon with a network that he masters. He's doing great and that's normal.
"I've got nothing to say about Chaume or Noa going there, just like Clement Ric – these are choices, it's fine, it's normal.
"They're trying to build their team and we're continuing to build ours."
Lyon's lead could come under threat from Montpellier who host fourth-placed Toulouse on Sunday, or La Rochelle who travel to eighth-placed Castres.
La Rochelle were the surprise package last season, topping the regular standings before losing to Toulon in the play-off semifinals.
Fifth-placed Toulon entertain 2016 champions Racing 92, one point and one place behind their hosts, in a clash of underwhelming big-spenders.
Clermont v Lyon
Bordeaux-Begles v Agen
Pau v Brive
Castres v La Rochelle
Montpellier v Toulouse
Stade Francais v Oyonnax
Toulon v Racing 92