Toulouse - Top 14 leaders Toulouse will turn their attention from Europe to a tough away trip to Toulon at Marseille's Velodrome this weekend, as one player plots to use space research to give the side an edge.
A 14-man Toulouse team set up a European Champions Cup semi-final against title holders Leinster after battling past French rivals Racing 92 last weekend in a thriller.
That run of form in Europe has been matched in the domestic elite league, with their last defeat in the Top 14, at home to Castres, coming in September - one of just two losses all season.
Riding this success is Toulouse scrumhalf Pierre Pages, who came in as injury cover in July last year from third division Blagnac, but has since seen his contract with the French giants extended through to June 2020.
Pages, who has played 15 times for the club since signing, has a doctorate in pharmacy and has embarked on scientific research linked to Toulouse's aerospace industry that could impact the performance of his team-mates.
"The idea is to study the quantity of energy expended in a typical week of a rugby player to be able to adapt physical effort and food," explained Pages.
Experiments started on Thursday and Pages has enlisted prop Charlie Faumuina and No 8 Gillian Galan as his guinea pigs. Club president Didier Lacroix will act as the control group, the benchmark for comparisons in experiments.
Pages combined his studies with playing, saying he didn't believe in his future as a pro. He was to start work as a pharmacist when Toulouse came knocking.
On the eve of the first laboratory tests, Pages gave Lacroix some advice: "We've told you: you must come for the tests not having eaten anything.
"You'll be able to drink water and urinate at your house. Yes, much better to do that there.
"Afterwards, we'll drink some things and do some tests. Don't exert yourself. Nothing! The exact protocol will be explained to you."
A week of tests lie ahead, with two more in June after next season's pre-season starts.
As for the protocols, they are manifold, Pages saying: "There are different methods to calculate body composition, and measure individuals' metabolism, be it exercising or at rest."
Pages said his area of research was backed by the National Centre of Space Research (CNES), with the support of two offshoots MEDES and CADMOS, which respectively look at space medicine and physiology, and study and develop microgravity, or weightlessness.
The scrum-half is hoping that by the end of his study he will be able to provide "data on energy expenditure" according to effort, which would allow him "to adapt meals".
"The goal is to improve performances," added Pages, who will juggle his study between training, matches and rest days.
"There's not been a study on energy expenditure. We've never studied static phases" such as forwards in scrums or rucks, said Pages, with club doctor Philippe Izard by his side.
Alain Maillet, head of physiological experiments with space body CNES, said the research project could shed light on how to cut down on losses of between 20-30% of muscle mass that astronauts suffer in space flights of six months.
"I'm not going to revolutionise the world of space!" said Pages, whose feet remain firmly on terra firma when it comes to his rugby outlook.
"With the World Cup coming up next season, I hope to have more game time," he said.