CASTRES, FRANCE – Never one to give up the fight for Top 14 column inches, Toulon’s president Mourad Boudjellal at the weekend fired a signing salvo of his own to rival that of Racing’s coup de Carter.
On Saturday, two days after Racing’s megarich owner Jacky Lorenzetti confirmed world-record point scorer Dan Carter would join them after the World Cup – news so blindingly obvious to all and sundry that calling it rugby’s worst-kept secret was laughable – Boudjellal delivered a riposte on French TV which stopped short of ending with “ner-ner-nee-ner-ner”.
Boudjellal appeared on French pay-TV broadcaster Canal+ to reveal that 94-cap All Black Ma’a Nonu would head Var-wards after the World Cup to kick off a two-year stint at Toulon, where he will add his considerable talent and experience to a midfield that includes the already formidable skills of Mathieu Bastareaud and Maxime Mermoz.
But Boudjellal didn’t stop there.
With USA and Northampton lock Samu Manoa also becoming the first man to sign a four-year deal atToulon and fellow Saint Selesi Ma’afu also heading to the south of France, Boudjellal on Saturday went on to reveal that Clermont winger Napolioni Nalaga will join the club next season on a three-year contract after – apparently – contacting the club about a move.
It quickly became clear that Boudjellal believes even this double-whammy still wasn’t enough to trump Dan Carter. So he laid down one more name with all the care and precision of a poker player who believes he’s won the pot.
“I can say that Diego Dominguez will be Bernard Laporte’s successor,” Boudjellal told Canal+, adding that the former Italy and Stade Francais fly-half will join Toulon in January 2016 to work with head coach Laporte before he steps down at the end of the 2015-16 season.
That name? Diego Dominguez.Boudjellal has been on the hunt for a replacement for Laporte for some time. It had been widely believed that current Oyonnax director of rugby Christophe Urios would be the anointed one – but he has signed a four-year deal with Top 14 basement side Castres. He looks certain to be taking his coaching team of Joe El-Abd and Frédéric Charrier with him.
Then, newspapers in France linked ex-Racing coach Pierre Berbizier to the Toulon hotseat, but in the end the big-spending Top 14 champions decided that Dominguez – a man with no coaching experience – was the one for them.
A matter of a few hours after the boss’s big announcement, the current Toulon squad, under their current coach, came from behind to beat Lyon 30-6 at Stade Mayol. A dour first-half ended with the visitors 6-3 up, courtesy of two penalties from fullback Jerome Porical.
Eight minutes into the second half, Toulon came alive as Chris Masoe crashed over for the first of his two tries of the game. His second would come on the hooter, while Drew Mitchell added the home side’s all-important bonus point-winning third touchdown after 63 minutes.
Leigh Halfpenny, meanwhile, weighed in with three penalties and two conversions, to make sure that Toulon enjoyed Christmas atop the Top 14 tree.
Clermont remain second, following a 19-10 win over Castres, in a game that featured a scrum-half skills masterclass from Morgan Parra.
The number 9, who had missed the November internationals through injury, had something to prove after his opposite number Rory Kockott had forced his way into the French reckoning for the Six Nations and maybe even the World Cup.
And prove it he did, notably after Julien Bardy was sent off for headbutting Yannick Caballero right in front of referee Romain Poite during a maul deep in Castres’ country shortly before the halftime hooter.
It was a straight and deserved red for the Clermont man, while Caballero was sin-binned for his Oscar-worthy reaction.
Parra went on to take put on a perfect display of positional, tactical, territorial rugby that meant Castres could not make the most of their one-man advantage in the second 40.
Earlier, the visitors had – briefly – threatened to belie their lowly position in the Top 14. Remy Grosso finished off a sweeping move after just four minutes to give Castres an early 7-0 lead.
But Camille Lopez kept Clermont in the hunt with two first-half penalties – and when Zac Guildford profited from an unnecessary mistake by Remi Tales to touch down 10 minutes into the second half, the writing was on the wall.
Then, was all about Parra. He converted the try, added two more penalties and controlled just about every aspect of the game. And although Kockott added a penalty of his own, there was little he could do but watch and admire the tactical brilliance of the Jaunards’ scrum-half general.
Less than 24 hours earlier, Stade Francais had briefly overtaken both sides at the head of the table, with a 43-30 five-tries-to-three win at Grenoble that ended the Isere side’s perfect home run this season.
Julien Arias and the back-from-injury Antoine Burban scored for the visitors in the first half. They were aided and abetted by Jules Plisson, who scored three penalties and converted one try in the opening 40 minutes. The hosts could only manage three Jonathan Wisniewski penalties in reply as the first period ended 21-9.
When Stade’s Waisale Nayacalevu went over three minutes into the second half for the first of his 20-minute double, it was all over bar the shouting.
Florian Faure showed that Grenoble weren’t willing to let their Alpine fortress fall without a fight as he finally found a way through the visitors’ defence 10 minutes later. But it would be just kick off a bout of tit-for-tat try scoring. Nayacalevu’s second, after 63 minutes, was followed three minutes later by a score for Grenoble’s Ali Ratini.
Jonathan Danty touched down for the visitors with nine minutes left on the clock – but a late-late penalty try for the hosts meant that Stade were denied what would have been a deserved bonus point at the death.
Montpellier ended their Top 14 freefall courtesy of nerveless replacement Teddy Iribaren – who slotted a 79th-minute penalty to earn them a much-needed 23-20 home win over Toulouse.
Benoit Paillaugue landed two penalties to give the hosts an early six-point lead before Luke McAlister halved the deficit with a penalty of his own.
Paillaugue would then convert Wynand Olivier’s touchdown to give the hosts a 10-point leading with the clock ticking down towards halftime – but Vincent Clerc scored on the hooter to make it 13-10 at the break.
Clerc repeated his try-scoring trick two minutes into the second half to give the visitors the lead. Toulouse, however, conceded a penalty try after 54 minutes to keep the game in the balance.
It would remain locked at 20-20 until Grégory Lamboley was penalised for a high tackle after McAlister had missed touch with a late penalty – and Iribaren made the visitors pay.
Bayonne beat Bordeaux 15-12 courtesy of a late drop goal from Santiago Fernandez. A game that was decided by the boot was ruled by the boot as Martin Bustos Moyano and Pierre Bernard traded penalties before Fernandez’s 79th-minute intervention.
Racing Metro looked set for a bonus-point win over La Rochelle at Stade Yves du Manoir – until Jean-Pascal Barraque’s near length-of-the-field interception try brought the ambitious Franciliens back down to Earth with a bump nine minutes before the hooter.
A try from Dimitri Szarzewski and five points from the boot of Maxime Machenaud gave Racing a 10-3 lead at half-time.
The hosts looked to be cruising to a big win when Brice Dulin and Yoan Audrin sliced through the visitors’ defence to each score converted tries in three second-half minutes, before Barraque went over for the visitors to make the final score 27-8 – with, crucially, the try tally standing at three to one.
Alfi Mafi scored the only try of the game as Brive beat Oyonnax 19-6 at Stade Amédée Domenech. Gaetan Germain converted the try and slotted three penalties after Nicolas Bezy’s eighth-minute drop goal, while the visitors could only manage two Benjamin Urdapilleta penalties in reply.
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