All Black legend Dan Carter says French champions Racing 92 need to build some momentum if they are to stand any chance of defending their title.
The 35-year-old double world champion looks set to make his return at home to La Rochelle in the Top 14 on Saturday having been out of action since the end of January with a groin problem.
Speaking at a publicity event where he unveiled a new personal sponsor, Carter said he still feels the misfiring champions can finish the season in style.
They are one point and one place outside the crucial top six play-off positions following a trying campaign, particularly off the field.
Asked what has gone wrong, Carter said: "So many things, so many distractions. The big thing was the lack of preparation.
"Normally you have a bigger pre-season, you work on your game plan, you work on your fitness, you work on your team spirit, your vision.
"Basically we arrived at the club after one month of holiday on a Saturday. The first game was six days later so we did not have a pre-season."
Carter insisted he wasn't making excuses but did bring up the Johan Goosen affair, which disrupted Racing in December as the Springbok international announced his retirement at just 24 -- ostensibly to become a commercial director for an agricultural company in his homeland, although many believe it was a bid to break his Racing contract.
That, aligned to a doping scandal and Carter's own drink-driving problems have made it a testing season in the French capital.
"You don't want to make excuses with things like that," said the former Crusaders star.
"We had some injuries, the situation with Goosen, the anti-doping situation, full of little things that has not sort of helped in the season.
"But one thing that remains is we still have a very strong team spirit, we're still confident we can bounce back, we have got a great team.
"We just need to sort of build some momentum at the end of the season. We are still confident we can get in the top six."
- Vito showdown -
Carter, alongside fellow New Zealand international Joe Rokocoko and Argentina wing Juan Imhoff, is being investigated by the French Anti-Doping Agency over the use of corticosteroids in last year's Top 14 final.
He was also caught drink-driving last month while another former All Black, lock Ali Williams, was arrested for alleged cocaine possession just over a week ago.
Carter will come up against a fellow two-time World Cup winner on Saturday in back-rower Victor Vito.
La Rochelle are the surprise front-runners in the league but Carter is relishing the upcoming fixture.
"They're a team that I find really impressive this season, an amazing team.
"They had a great win last weekend in Toulouse, beat Toulon in Toulon, they're a team in form and that's why they are at the top of the table.
"You always want to test yourself against the best team, it's a huge game for us."