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A look at the ins and outs in the French Top 14
By Nell
August 14 2009

Roving reporter Nell takes a look at the transfers in and out of the French Top 14.

Albi
In
Lucas Borges (Dax), Anthony Poujol (Béziers), Florent Fourcade (Tarbes), Dave Vainqueur (Stade Français), Pierre Correia (Stade Français), Thomas Sanchou (Castres), Michel Denêtre (Agen), Cyriac Ponnau (Agen), Thomas Fournil (Narbonne), Benjamin Sore (Agen)

Out: Nicolas Grelon (Béziers), Stanislas Krzesinski (Mazamet), Julien Saintenac (Colomiers), Willem Meyer (AFS)

As is usual for newly promoted sides the recruits outweigh the departures at Albi.  They have three ex-Stade Francais players.  Wing Lucas Borges is I think very under-rated.  He is one of those players who seem to get injured at the wrong time.  He comes to them via Dax.  Prop Pierre Correia has returned. He was being chased by many of the big clubs when Albi was demoted and eventually signed for Stade Francais last season.  He started well but then caught a virus and never seemed to come back into form. He had been a strong scrummager for Albi but did little in the latter half of the season for Stade Francais.  Whether it was because of fitness or because he was having trouble adapting in a  pack that was not really functioning is hard to tell.  Dave Vainqueur another wing/centre seemed to do little wrong at Stade Francais but then disappeared off the radar entirely.  I don’t know the reasons but he is a good recruit.

Albi’s strength has always been their pack.  It is a very smoothly oiled machine and can give most of the big clubs a run for their money.  They also have wonderful fans that support them through thick and thin.  Like the other “little clubs” they don’t have the depth of players to really compete with the big boys throughout the season.  Like the other smaller clubs I expect them to start strongly.  They will try to get enough points on the board to avoid relegation early in the season.  The big clubs are without their internationals and some tend to treat the first few games as an extended pre-season as they know they have the strength to come back and almost certainly make the top 4.
 
Bayonne
In: 
Ross Filippo (Crusaders), Renaud Boyoud (Dax), Lionel Mazars (Castres), Benat Arrayet (Mont-de-Marsan), Antony Salle-Canne (Colomiers), Ace Tiatia (Agen), Salvatore Perugini (Toulouse)

Out : 
Cédric Bergez (retraite), Andrew Springgay (Agen), Antony Etchegaray (Mont-de-Marsan), Julian Fiorini (Mont-de-Marsan), Julien Tilloles (Mont-de-Marsan), Johnny Howard (Aix-en-Provence)

Bayonne missed out on the Heineken Cup last year by their own naïveté.  They only had to draw with Toulouse at home to qualify.  Instead of taking penalties in the last minutes which would have given them the draw they went for touch and lost.  Their other bête noir was Manny Edmond’s kicking which was erratic to say the least.  With a safe kicker they would have been in Europe or maybe even top 4.  Benat Arrayet recruited from Mont de Marsan is one of the safest kickers in France.    They already have one of the best  packs and look like they will be very dangerous this season.  They could even make the semis.

 

Biarritz
In : 
Romain Terrain (Castres), Florian Faure (Castres), Raphaël Lakafia (Grenoble), Arnaud Mignardi (Clermont), Ian Taele (Parme), Ayoola Erinle (Leicester), Alexandre Barozzi (Auch), Yann Fior (La Rochelle), Iain Balshaw (Gloucester), Fabien Alexandre (Clermont), Charles Gimenez (Toulouse)

Out :
Benjamin Thiéry (Montpellier), Benjamin Noirot (Racing-Métro), Andréa Masi (Racing-Metro), Jacques Cronje (Racing-Métro), Peio Som (La Rochelle), Henry Fa'Afili (Leeds), Benoît Bourrust (Perpignan), Nicolas Pretorius (Dax), Romain Cabannes (Castres)

Biarritz had a very mixed season last year.  They were awful for much of the season but the appointment of Jean-Michel Gonzales as coach turned things round at the end of the season and they were arguably the form team.  They came back from the relegation zone to qualify for Europe.  They were too far behind to qualify for the semis, but had they done so they would have been possibly the strongest team on their form.  Two English recruits, Balshaw and Erinle but no real superstars. 

 

Biarritz are in with a very good chance of lifting trophies this season if they keep up last the end of last season’s  fighting spirit.  Something they had been lacking for a long time before their transformation under Gonzo.

Bourgoin
In : John Senio (Clermont), Albert VuliVuli (Reds), Sylvain Charlet (Bourg-en-Bresse), Piet Van Zyl (Boland), Alberto Di Bernardo (Leeds)

Out :
Morgan Parra (Clermont), Yann David (Toulouse), Mathieu Nicolas (Castres), Damien Fèvre (Oyonnax)

 

Once again Bourgoin have lost their young stars Morgan Parra and Yann David.  Their precarious financial situation means that they never seem to hold on to players even though they are possibly the best nursery for future internationals in France.  Their financial situation means that they have a hearing with the dreaded DNAG, the institution that regulates the finances of all French professional sport.  If the figures don’t add up they won’t be allowed to recruit or even worse risk relegation.  Relegation does not seem to happen during the season so hopefully they will be OK although they are likely to be living from hand to mouth.  It seems they are missing 2million euros from their 10million budget.

They are more likely to be I the relegation zone than fighting for a place in Europe.

Brive
In : 
Scott Zimmerman (Bourg-en-Bresse), Retief Uys (Narbonne), Riki Flutey (Wasps), Jamie Noon (Newcastle), Shaun Perry (Bristol), Pat Barnard (Wasps), Vili Waqaseduadua (Wiakato Chiefs), Guillaume Ribes (Toulon), Jonathan Garcia (La Rochelle)

Out :
Ben Cohen (Sale), Johan Van Zyl (arrêt), Pierre Capdevielle (Gloucester), Vladimir Petru Balan (Dax), Ben Johnston (Newcastle), Barry Davies (Ospreys), Jawad Djoudi (Toulon).

Brive has more foreign players than French with a large British contingent.  They have 300 English season ticket holders, 100 of whom joined because of a certain Andy Goode.  Brive is another team that will be thereabout next season and could make the Top 14 semis.  It is however going to be much more competitive.  They do tend to have too much of an Andy Goode dependency, when he’s on song they are very good when he’s having a bad day at the office it falls apart a bit.  Another team with a very strong pack, especially the South African’s Vosloo and Classens.  These two will qualify for the French national team this season and look likely to be picked.

Castres
In : 
Laurent Travers (coach., Montauban), Laurent Labit (coach, Montauban), Michael Coetzee (Racing-Métro), Alexandre Albouy (Stade Français), Ibrahim Diarra (Montauban), Yoan Audrin (Montauban), Mathias Rolland (Montauban), Yannick Caballero (Montauban), Mathieu Nicolas (Bourgoin), Pierre-Emmanuel Garcia (Clermont), Marc Andreu (Toulon, Romain Cabanes (Biarritz)

Out :
Lionel Nallet (Racing-Métro), Anthony Lagardère, Steve Kefu (Wasps), Kevin Senio (Clermont), Mark McCall (entr. Saracens), Florian Faure (Biarritz), Romain Terrain (Biarritz), Alexandre Bias (Agen), Lionel Mazars (Bayonne, Weppener (Golden Lions)

 

Castres had a poor season last year and their solution seems to be to import Montauban en masse.  Montaubans two very successful coaches Laurent Travers and Laurent Labit have been joined by four the their best players, Ibrahim Diarra ,Yoan Audrin , Mathias Rolland and Yannick Caballero.   Alexandre Albouy has returned from Stade Francais.  They have lost their Captain Lionel Nallet to Racing Metro but he had a very poor season last year looking absolutely knackered for most of it.

 

If the two Laurents can instill the spirit into Castres that they did with Montauban they should be a very good team

Clermont
In : 
Morgan Parra (Bourgoin), Lionel Faure (Sale), Jason White (Sale), Tasesa Lavea (Auckland), Kevin Senio (Castres), Jaque Fourie (Lions), Willie Wepener (Lions)

Out :
Pierre Mignoni (Toulon), Arnaud Mignardi (Biarritz), Laurent Emmanuelli (Toulon), Thomas Combezou (La Rochelle), John Senio (Bourgoin), Pierre-Emmanuel Garcia (Castres), Emmanuel Etien (Montauban), Campos (Montauban), Emmanuel Etien (Montauban), Fabien Alexandre (Biarritz)

“The losers” as they are called in France.  They have now lost 11 top 14 finals.  They have the squad to win it.  They can play wonderful, skilful rugby but when it comes to the final hurdle they manage to bottle it.  Swapping Morgan Parra for Pierre Mignoni at scrum half is a good move.  Parra is a very promising scrum half and is also a very good kicker.  Having a good back up kicker to Brock James should help  with the big game bottling.  James is the French league’s best kicker.  He managed 41 consecutive kicks last season but in the big games he tends to be all over the shop.  Mignoni holds the record for the number of losing Brennus finals – 5.  He seems to be cursed.

 

Once again Clermont should be at the sharp end of things.  Whether they can manage to qualify for a fourth consecutive final and actually win it is another thing.

Montauban
In : 
Sébastien Calvet, Marc Raynaud (entr.), Mathieu Bélie (Toulouse), Joël Koffi (Dax), Emmanuel Etien (Clermont), Andrew Henderson (Glasgow Warriors), Campos et Mirko Lozupone (Clermont).

Out :
Laurent Travers (entr., Castres), Laurent Labit (entr. Castres) , Marc Raynaud (encadrement), Fabien Fortassin (Racing-Métro), Ibrahim Diarra (Castres), Yoan Audrin (Castres), Mathias Rolland (Castres), Yannick Caballero (Castres), Miguel Boris Avramovic (ARG)

I don’t really know what to say about Montauban.  The core of the coaches and players signed for Castres when it looked like they would be relegated by the DNACG.  Even though they all knew this was happening from Christmas they kept on doing their best every game.  They have a tremendous fighting spirit.  They have lost Fortissan to metro racing and he is a very safe kicker.  A bit of an unknown quantity but likely to be nearer the bottom than the top.  They do still have Delasau however who can conjure tries out of nothing.  They still have problems with the DNACG but it appears to be more not having paperwork in order than lack of cash.  They are likely to be less good than last season.

Montpellier
In : 
Benjamin Thiéry (Biarritz), Juan Figallo (Jockey de salta), Marc Giraud (Mont-de-Marsan), George Chkhaidze (Racing-Métro), Sakiusa Matadigo (Auch)

Out :
Louis Picamoles (Toulouse), Clément Baïocco (racing-Métro), Didier Chouchan (Béziers), Gonzalo Uva (POR)

Another team with financial problems which had been called before the DNACG. It would appear however that their financial problems are over for the moment as they have found a sugar daddy in the form of chairman Delmonte Phillipe Deffins  They reluctantly let Louis Picamoles go to Toulouse for a big fee to help them out of the financial hole.  A lot of good young players and, of course, Ollie Smith but seem to lack a bit of backbone and experience.  I think they are likely to struggle this season.  I hope I’m wrong as its nice to see young talent coming through but there is something missing.  They need an old experienced leader.

Perpignan
In: Benoît Bourrust (Biarritz).

Out

Daniel Carter (Crusaders), Chris Cusiter (Glasgow), Sebastian Bozzi (arrêt), Nathan Hines (Leinster)

The champions and the most settled side with only one recruit.  They are on a roll and I expect them to be Top 4 again.  They won the championship with 4 injured fly halves including Dan Carter.  They are very skilful, passionate and willing to take risks.  A great team to watch.

 

Racing-Métro 92:
IN
: Benjamin Noirot (Biarritz), Jacques Cronje (Biarritz), Fabien Fortassin (Montauban), Fabrice Culine (Agen), Juan-Pablo Orlandi (Rovigo), Lionel Nallet (Castres), Sébastien Chabal (Sale), Clément Baïocco (Montpellier), Rémi Vaquin (La Rochelle), François Steyn (Sharks), Epeli Taione (Harlequins), Julien Saubade (Stade Français), Taione (Harlequins)

Out: Michael Coetzee (Castres), George Chkhaidze (Montpellier), Gerard (Marseille)

Lorenzi seems to have a bottomless pocket and they are on paper an excellent team.  However, as Toulon found out last season it is not easy to step up to Top 14.  They have a very experienced and successful coach in Pierre Bebezier but he does have a habit of rubbing some people up the wrong way.  Whether they are able to gel and fulfill their undoubted potential remains to be seen.

 

Stade Français
In : 
James Haskell (Wasps), Tom Palmer (Wasps), Benjamin Kayser (Leicester), Hugo Southwell (Edimbourg), Ollie Phillips (Newcastle, Julien Dupuy (Leicester), Rayno Gerber (Bulls), Ollie Phillips (Newcastle).

Out :
Mathieu Blin (coaching), Fabrice Landreau (coach., Grenoble), Alexandre Albouy (Castres), Julien Saubade (Racing-Métro), David Auradou (retired), Stéphane Glas (retired), Ignacio Corleto (retired), Quentin Valançon (Bordeaux-Bègles), Juan Martin Hernandez (Sharks)

Stade Francais seem to have decided to do their shopping in Britain with even their only French recruit Dupuy coming to them from Tigers.  All the rest are British except Bull’s prop Rayno Gerber.  On paper they have a very strong pack although it was spluttering last season.  Tom Palmer should help in the second row as will Pascal Pape who was injured for most of last season.  They only have one real fly half however and Lionel Beauxis usually manages to be injured or playing for France.  They have the phanthom Ignacio Mieres who everyone would like to see play.  He had to be loaned to Perpignan last season as they had exceeded the number of foreign players on the books.  He promptly got injured and so barely played.  I’m very exited about Dupuy and I think his creativity will help Beauxis who is not the most creative fly half in the world.  Despite the lack of fly halves no-one seems to be mourning the departure of Hernandez and hopefully they will now be able to regain some of their all for one and one for all spirit.  Much will depend on whether McKenzie and Dominici actually manage to sing from the same hymn sheet this season.  If they do it could be a good season but unlikely to be an H Cup winning one until next season I feel.  A season of transition. 

Toulon
In : 
Sébastien Bruno (Sale), Pierre Mignoni (Clermont), Laurent Emmanuelli (Clermont), Philippe Saint-André (manager, Sale), Joe El Abd (Bristol), Felipe Contepomi (Leinster), Tim Ryan (Munster), Tom May (Newcastle), Jonny Wilkinson (Newcastle), Chris Chesney (Saracens), Juan Martin Fernandez-Lobbe (Sale), Rory Lamont (Sale), Tonga Lea'aetoa (London Irish), Jamie Robinson (Cardiff), Dewald Senekal (Lions), Christian Loamanu (Toshiba), Clément Marienval (LOU), Jawad Djoudi (Brive).

Out :
Orene Ai'i (Japon), Tusi Pisi (Japon), Yoann Maestri (Toulouse), Christiaan Liebenberg (Stormers), Martin Jagr (Union), Gia Labadze (Aix), Grimaud (Aix), Guillaume Ribes (Brive), Jerry Collins (Ospreys), Marc Andreu (Castres), Clément Imbert (Grenoble), Damien Vidal (Grenoble).

 

The big spenders.  Some might think having Jonny Wilkinson and Felipe Conteponi in the same team is a bit greedy but as both manage a lot of injuries it is possibly sensible.  Jonny will miss the first two games of the season because of England training so won’t be on show for the opening match against Stade Francais. Philippe Saint Andre should bring some much needed experience to the coaching team as well as a thorough knowledge of the Top 14.  If he can get them to click they will be a real force and should be up near the top.

 

Toulouse
In : 
Yann David (Bourgoin), Louis Picamoles (Montpellier), Yoann Maestri (Toulon), Census Johnston (Saracens).

Out :
Gaffie Du Toit (SWD Eagles), Bertus Swanepoel (f.c.), Mathieu Bélie (Montauban), Julien Raynaud (Montauban), Charles Gimenez (Biarritz), Stéphane Clément (La Rochelle), Mathieu André, Alexandre Ducasse, Loïc Mazières (Dax)

Not much recruitment but three young French stars of the future plus prop Census Johnston.  Toulouse are looking tired.  A lot of rumblings about Noves failing to rotate his stars enough.  Heymans, Jauzion, Clerc, Sowerby, Ellisade looked cream crackered for much of last season yet Noves very rarely played the second string and acadamey players.  Jauzion is rumoured to be so fed up he is giving up rugby altogether when his contract comes to an end and returning to farming. Toulouse should still be a force to be reckoned with but they have lost a bit of their glitter and are not quite the mean machine they once were.

The Top 14 is getting more exciting.  Several teams can now challenge for the semi finals.  With the issue of too many games being played during the season a big issue the French authorities have come up with a wheeze to add even more games for some teams.  Instead of the top 4 going through to the semis, which used to be played at neutral venues, the top 2 will now play at home with the next 4 teams playing off to join them in the semis.   It means that the usual culprits for the top 4 will not be able to rest on their laurels and also that they need to aim for top 2 rather than top 4.  It will be interesting to see how it works out with teams like Brive, Bayonne and ,maybe, Toulon and Castres looking to be competitive and the two Stades losing a bit of their shine at the moment.  Biarritz, Perpignan and Clermont should also be in the mix.  Hopefully it will mean change from the old attitude of  not trying too hard in some matches as the big teams knew they were still able to get top 4.  It may, however, have the adverse effect of increasing player burnout.  This is possibly even more likely as most teams have reduced their fully professional squads from the 34 players allowed to 29.  It should however, hopefully, allow more of the good academy players to get starts.

It all kicks off next Friday with Toulon Stade Francais.  The teams are without their internationals for the first two games, however, due to their enforced 8 week rest after their last test match.  This does not apply to Julien Dupuy however as he still had English rather than French contract when he played for France.

It could be an interesting exiting season or it could be another boring season of aerial ping-pong.  Whichever way I can’t wait, especially for my first match Bayonne/ Stade Francais in sunny San Sebastian 21st August.