CASTRES, FRANCE – The wealth enjoyed by some Top 14 clubs is widely known – thanks to the deep pockets their owners and the sums broadcasters are prepared to fork out for TV rights.
If respected sports newspaper Midi Olympique’s reports are accurate, things are about to move to a whole new level. According to Midol, Racing Metro have put together a €1million-a-year deal to tempt Matt Giteau from Toulon to replace Jonny Sexton.
Reports also suggest – justifiably – that the Var side will be just as keen to keep the Australian at Stade Mayol. Club president Mourad Boudjellal and head coach Bernard Laporte are – reports say – ready to sit down with the player to thrash out a new deal in the coming weeks.
One thing’s for sure. It will have done nothing to cool the increasingly heated war of words between the two clubs’ presidents in recent weeks.
In American sports and soccer terms, €1million a year is peanuts, but if the deal turns out to be true, it will make Giteau the highest-paid rugby player on the planet.
Racing’s worries at number 10 are more pressing than who will replace Sexton at the end of the season.
The Irishman is currently out of action with a fractured jaw, and Johan Goosen – of monster drop-goal fame – staggered off the pitch with a head injury last week. Medics were due to decide on Thursday whether the South African will be able to play against Lyon on Saturday.
The Parisian bluebloods are also stretched in the front row. Prop Davit Khinchagishvili has a torn cruciate ligament in his right knee and will miss the next six months. They’re in the market for a medical joker, though they will also be hoping Anton Peikrishvili’s on-ice move from Castres will belatedly heat up. It fell through temporarily after a routine medical revealed a spine injury, but surgery and a successful rehabilitation could mean the move is on again.
Racing’s injury worries, coupled with their apparent inability to cross a try line – even following the arrival of the electric Teddy Thomas from Biarritz and the quicker-than-greased lightning Brice Dulin from Castres – could give opponents Lyon hope.
But Maxime Machenaud is no slouch with the boot. The little number 9 in ciel-et-blanc has something to prove, too. There are rumours that Castres’ South African scrum-half Rory Kockott could team up at 9/10 with Montpellier’s Francois Trinh-Duc for Les Bleus’ November internationals after qualifying to play for France on residency grounds.
Lyon come into the game two places higher in the Top 14 than their hosts – and on the back of two wins in a row. But both those wins were at home. Victory at Colombes could be a Stade too far.
The Giteau reports offer a little breath of good news for Castres, after their number 10 and club captain Remi Tales was linked with a move to Racing almost as soon as news of Sexton’s departure broke.
Castres have made a dismal start to the season, losing three of their first four – though their defeats were away at Montpellier and Toulouse, and on neutral ground in Beziers for the season opener against Stade Francais.
The shadow of Biarritz looms over the Tarn side. At this stage last season, the relegated Basque side were also in 13th and with the same number of points as Castres this season. But, there’s no “ostrich policy” in place at the club, according to manager Matthias Rolland.
Good job, too. Castres are on the road again this week – heading to bottom-of-the-table La Rochelle, where Tales started his career, for Friday night’s televised match. And, if what happened to Toulouse at Stade Marcel Deflandre two weeks ago is anything to go by, it’s no easy place to visit.
It’s very early in the season, but this is a must-win game for both sides. That means one of two things. It will either turn into a gritty, dour affair, or it will be a thrill-a-minute tryfest. After some of last week’s games, Top 14 fans will be hoping for the latter.
Toulon were jeered last week by their own fans for their inability to put away Bordeaux at Stade Mayol. The home faithful will expect an improved performance against Stade Francais this Saturday.
But, as well as the Giteau rumours, the big news out of Toulon is the continued absence of Leigh Halfpenny. He picked up a groin injury in training after finally recovering from the dislocated shoulder he suffered in Wales’ Six Nations game against England earlier this year, and is still not match fit.
Not that they’ve missed him much. Freddie Michalak and Giteau are sharing kicking duties, and Delon Armitage and Drew Mitchell have full back business well in hand.
Don’t expect a surprise at Mayol this week.
Toulouse entertain Clermont at Stade Ernest Wallon in the Top 14’s only Saturday afternoon encounter.
Guy Noves’ side have lost their last two – and have looked pretty awful doing so. Maybe, just maybe, Toulouse are there for the taking at home. If any side can do it, Clermont can, even without Zac Guildford, who has been sidelined following a late-night street assault.
But now the investigation into that concussion incident in last season’s play-off quarter-finals is over, maybe Noves can concentrate on coaching rugby. Which may mean that the Toulouse that turns out on Saturday will be more like the Toulouse that battered Castres, rather than the one that lumped lamely around the Brive pitch last weekend.
Could be an exciting game, then.
Like Toulouse, Bayonne have also lost the last two on the road. Unlike Toulouse, they picked up many a plaudit – not to mention a much-needed bonus point – in defeat to Stade Francais last week.
They’re back at home this week, and ironically face Brive, who did for Toulouse last Saturday. But while the Correze side have an impressive track record at home, they’re far less strong on the road. Chalk up a win for the home side, and move on.
Oyonnax are also back on home turf after a close encounter of the losing kind at Lyon last time out. They face Grenoble, who have looked a different, harder, tougher team so far this season. But – as Stade Francais discovered two weeks ago, Stade Charles Mathon is a graveyard for even the best sides.
Grenoble will have to pull something very special out of the bag to pick up a win – though don’t be too surprised if they head home with a defensive bonus point.
The Top 14 has saved the what looks to be the best till last – and fans will have to wait until Sunday afternoon to see two of the league’s most exciting, free-flowing teams face off, as Bordeaux entertain Montpellier.
Bordeaux left Toulon’s Stade Mayol with a deserved defensive bonus point last week, but will want to cut loose after that disciplined, tactical performance. Montpellier, meanwhile, dispatched 14-man Castres with a first-half flourish. This one has all the hallmarks of greatness…
That’s it for now. Feel free to comment below, please look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@ :RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Jamie Wall, Jaime Loyd, DJ Eberle, Cody Kuxmann, Karen Ritter, Jake Frechette and Declan Yeats, respectively.