Toulon have quashed rumours that they have signed Irish captain Paul O’Connell, but it is believed that the Reds & Wallaby flyhalf Quade Cooper has made the move.
It was reported that the French giants were chasing another Galácticos signing for the second row, with current legends Bakkies Botha and Ali WIlliams set to retire at the end of the season.
O’Connell’s contract with the IRFU expires in June of 2016, but it was speculated that Toulon were eager for him to be released from his contract to join them after the World Cup.
Since then, a strong statement has been released insisting ‘any alleged contacts between the player and the french club are pure speculation’.
Meanwhile, French paper L’Equipe has said that Toulon have captured the signature of the mercurial Cooper on a 2-year deal.
Cooper, if reports are to be believed, would join a burgeoning Australian contingent at Toulon with Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell already there.
Toulon have already brought in All Black Ma’a Nonu ahead of next season with Samu Manoa, Salesi Ma’afu and Napolioni Nalaga also joining the reigning European champions.
2 Time defending champions Toulon will bid for an unprecedented hat-trick of European titles against Clermont after beating Leinster 25 / 20 following extra-time in Sunday’s Champions Cup semi-final.
Toulon’s Welsh fullback Leigh Halfpenny kicked 6 penalties and converted a Bryan Habana interception try for a personal haul of 20 points in an ultimately thrilling match that went to extra-time after finishing 12 / 12 after regulation time.
Leinster had Ian Madigan to thank for 5 penalties, while Sean O’Brien scored a late try that made for a nerve-racking climax.
Turnovers, ruck penalties and handling errors saw out a tight if uninspiring, pressure-laden 1st-half during which Toulon failed to convert their territorial domination into points.
The European Rugby Champions Cup semifinals takes place this weekend.
On Saturday, Clermont Auvergne host Saracens at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Saint-Étienne at 16:15 French Time (15:15 BST, 14:15 GMT).
On Sunday, Toulon host Leinster at Stade Felix-Mayol, Toulon at 16:15 French Time (15:15 BST, 14:15 GMT).
Clemont Auvergne vs Saracens:
Saracens knocked Clermont Auvergne for 6 at the European Cup semifinal stage last season, will it be repeat or redemption this time around?
The 46 / 6 triumph booked McCall’s men a place in last seasons’ Millennium Stadium finale against Toulon. They set new semifinal records for the most points scored by a team (46), the largest winning margin (40) and the most tries scored (6). Surely lightning cannot strike twice between the Pool 1 rivals, who each scored a victory over each other in the early Rounds.
Saracens have their defensive leader, Brad Barritt, back in the side after a knee injury kept him out of action for a month. England playmaker Owen Farrell crossed for 1 of Saracens’ 6 tries last year and is set to make an impact off the bench after he was sidelined for 3 months in the last meeting between the pair.
A bumper weekend of European cup action saw the semifinalists for the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup decided across 3 days.
After an enthralling set of games on Sunday, we now know that Clermont will play Saracens in Saint-Etienne, while Toulon will face Leinster in Marseille in what are set to be 2 titanic battles.
Champions Toulon remain in the hunt for what would be a 3rd successive European title. No side has ever achieved that before but Toulon unquestionably have the players to do so.
They were too smart and too strong for a stubborn Wasps outfit at the Stade Mayol on Sunday, winning with Juan Smith and Bryan Habana watching on from the stands due to injuries. Both are expected however to be in contention for the semifinals.
Bakkies Botha did start in the second row as Toulon won 14 out of 15 lineouts, contributing to their success. Another trophy or 2 for the cabinet remain on the horizon for the Springbok legend ahead of his retirement. Michael Claassens was on the bench.
Defeat for Wasps of course also meant defeat for Ashley Johnson, as the former Cheetahs back rower’s side fell short despite a late rally in the 2nd half. Twice European champions in the past, Wasps are certainly on the up again.
Toulon will face Leinster in the semifinals after Zane Kirchner’s side knocked out Francois Louw’s Bath in Dublin. The former Bulls back was called from the bench early on at the Aviva Stadium and nearly scored a try in the corner not long after his arrival.
With 3 of the 4 quarterfinals taking place on french soil, and all 3 of those against English opposition it could feel somewhat like the Hundred year war for the Premiership sides.
In the only non Anglo-French encounter, Bath travel to Leinster while the remaining fixtures sees Clermont Auvergne take on Premiership table-toppers Northampton Saints, Racing Metro will play last year’s finalists Saracens, and finally champions Toulon will face Wasps.
The record books show that in 72 quarterfinal encounters in Europe’s top flight, 54 have been won by the home club – a staggering 75% success rate for those sides on home soil.
Premiership clubs make up half the Champions Cup quarterfinalists, although all have to play away from home.
English teams have a 20% success rate away from home in the tournament, winning only 4 times in 20 quarterfinal games to date.
For the 9 away matches against French opposition, the success rate is as low as 11%, with only 1 win – Northampton Saints’ 7 / 6 victory over Biarritz Olympique in San Sebastian in 2007.
The only other English away victories in the last 8 have been Leicester Tigers over Leinster Rugby at Lansdowne Road in 2005, Bath at Leicester in 2006 and Saracens against Ulster at Kingspan Stadium last season.
The 3 French clubs in the Champions Cup quarterfinals have never lost at home in the last 8 of Europe’s top flight.
Toulon and Clermont have won home quarterfinals in the past 2 seasons, while Racing Metro have reached the knockout stage for the 1st time in their history.
The odds are definitely stacked against the English clubs, but that does not mean that any of the French teams will take them lightly.
Argentina flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez has left European champions Toulon to get ready for his wedding in May and to prepare for the World Cup.
Sanchez joined the French and European champions in October as an injury replacement for Frederic Michalak.
But after the latter returned to action on Saturday in the 34 / 24 defeat at home to Toulouse, Sanchez was no longer available for Top 14 action.
He could have continued to turn out for Toulon in the European Cup – the champions hosts Wasps in the quarterfinals next weekend – but he said he preferred to return home.
A court in southern France called for further inquiries to be held into allegations of assault against Toulon’s former England flank Steffon Armitage.
Armitage faces a 5 to 6 month suspended prison sentence and €5,000 ($5,649) fine over the incident which occurred in a Toulon restaurant on 13 December.
“There are still a number of grey areas in this case that perhaps further investigation will throw light on,” Armitage’s lawyer Clement Lambert said.
Prosecutors have requested a 5 to 6 month suspended prison term and £5000 fine against Toulon’s flank Steffon Armitage who appeared in a French court Tuesday on charges of assault.
Armitage, last season’s European player of the year and capped 5 times by England, is alleged to have struck a 31-year-old man on 13 December in a Toulon restaurant after an evening drinking with teammates following the side’s 23 / 8 victory over Leicester in the European Champions Cup.
According to witnesses, a fight broke out and Armitage, 29, and Toulon prop Xavier Chiocci, who was later released without charge by police, felled the restaurant goer before striking him, injuring his eye.
Toulon (5) 10 / 12 (9) Sharks (Final Score)
Toulon and the Cell C Sharks did battle in a friendly cross-hemisphere match prior to the
Super Rugby season at Stade Mayol, Toulon at 22:00 SA Time (21:00 French Time, 20:00 GMT).
This was the live match discussion Article.
The match was broadcast LIVE on SuperSport 1 & CSN on TV in SA.
Cell C Sharks defensive coach, Michael Horak, is looking forward to the test an unstructured Toulon team can give the Sharks defensive line ahead of their warm-up match on Thursday.
The Sharks are in the latter stages of their preparation for a Super Rugby campaign that kicks off against the Cheetahs on 14 February.
They will face a Toulon side famous for its big names and dominating style of rugby as a warm-up match in order to get their systems and structures right.
The Sharks match against Toulon will see 2014’s best European team take on the last year’s best South African team, but will it be rust versus readiness?
The men from Durban, bar a brief hit-out against Rovers last Thursday, have not seen competitive rugby in over 3 months, while their opponents, Toulon, are in the business end of their season.
There is bound to be some rustiness from the South Africans admits former Sharks prop Eduard Coetzee as he discusses what it will be like for them to face the Galácticos of rugby.
Coetzee is well versed in both countries’ rugby having spent 5 years with the Sharks before finishing off his career in France with Bayonne and finally Biarritz where he made 125 appearances.
“It is clear that for us that this meeting will be something special,” Coetzee said.
“We will assess our ability while facing the best team in the Northern Hemisphere.
The Bulls are the South African team to have laid down the early marker ahead of the Vodacom Super Rugby season that kicks off in a fortnight and after watching the Pretoria team deal with Saracens, the Sharks will aim at a quality performance when they play Toulon in France on Thursday.
In direct contrast to last season, when Jake White’s arrival as director of rugby created much hype and a few bold predictions about the Sharks’ chances long before the competition had started, the Durban franchise has been operating under the radar during the off-season.
The low key end to 2014, with the Currie Cup team bowing out in the semifinal stage as opposed to going all the way to the trophy the year before, has probably contributed to the low key build-up, as has the fact that the new director of rugby, Gary Gold, has until late last week been based in Japan. Consultant Brendan Venter has been overseeing the preparations for Super Rugby, but he is not known for making bold assertions to the media.
On Thursday 5 February, 2015 the Cell C Sharks will play Toulon in a pre-season friendly at the Stade Mayol in a North vs South Challenge match.
This match gives fans the opportunity of seeing the likes of Mouritz Botha and Renaldo Bothma (forwards) and Paul Perez and Waylon Murray (backs) in action for the Cell C Sharks, along with team regulars in a competitive pre-season hit-out against the four time French National competition winners and back-to-back Heineken Cup champions in 2013 and 2014.
The following players make up the touring squad to France:
Jake White’s Montpellier bounced back from their comprehensive loss away from home to Glasgow Warriors last week by beating fellow French team Toulouse in their final European Rugby Champions Pool 4 match on Sunday. Montpellier won a closely contested match by the narrowest of margins with a final score of 27 / 26 in their favour.
This victory for Montpellier meant that Saracens qualified for the last eight of the Cup in spite of losing their last Pool 1 match against pool winners Clermont Auvergne. The score in that match Clermont Auvergne 18 / 6 Saracens.
The 5 pool winners along with the 3 best second placed team advanced and Saracens made it through as the last qualifying with the lowest amount of points from their 6 matches (17). Had Toulouse won they would have qualified as Pool 4 winners along with Bath who won their Pool 4 match against Glasgow Warriors. Toulouse also ended the pool stage on 17 points but Saracens got through via a superior points difference, +14 versus Toulouse’s +2.
Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis as well as Duane Vermeulen will further their careers in France after this year’s Rugby World Cup, respected French rugby newspaper Midi Olympique has revealed.
According to the newspaper, the official announcement regarding Vermeulen will only be made in July.
All Black legend Ali Williams vowed to spend his time fishing and hunting after announcing his retirement from the game.
The 33-year-old New Zealand international lock joined European and French champions Toulon at the beginning of last season, after a career spent with the Blues and Crusaders.
“I’ve enjoyed every day that I’ve played rugby and I’m still enjoying it to the end but my body’s said enough is enough,” said Williams.
“There’s huge motivation to go out on a winning note but like anything you can’t look to the prizes, you have to look to the processes for the next few months to try to get to the prizes.
World Cup-winning Springbok Bryan Habana is enjoying his stay in Toulon so much, he might extend it.
The 31-year-old, Player of the Year after equalling the record set for most tries in a World Cup, said discussions are underway to extend his contract the French and European champions when it expires in 2016.
His arrival in the south of France was marked by a groin injury that sidelined him for most of his first season.
Montpellier’s new coach, Jake White, arrested a nine-match slide for his French club by using his tried and tested method – going back to basics.
The South African, a former World Cup-winning Springbok coach, got off to a winning start as the Top 14 strugglers beat European and French champions Toulon 16-12 at the weekend.
White was brought in as a consultant to replace the suspended Fabien Galthie in an aim to stem the tide of losses in European and domestic action.
Club President Mohed Altrad, who caused so much controversy when he called Galthie a failure, was full of praise for White.
French centre Mathieu Bastareaud broke down in tears at the weekend and said he has had enough of his poor form.
The tearful 26-year-old opened his heart in an interview, following his side’s 6-30 humbling defeat to Stade Francais, that saw them knocked off top spot in the French league by their opponents.
“You have to know how to face up to things. Since the beginning of the season, I haven’t been able to find my form,” the bulky back, who has been capped 28 times by France, said.
The rugby year has not pegged out just yet but, even before the first of the thunderous 1872 Cup clashes between Glasgow and Edinburgh, the sport seems to have lapsed into reflective mode.
So, too, your correspondent, croaking towards 2014’s finishing line in a clapped-out but generally contented frame of mind. So when the stockings have been hung, I shall allow myself a few moments of rheumy-eyed and entirely random reflection on what made this twelve-month memorable .
Former Italy and Stade Francais flyhalf Diego Dominguez will be head coach of European and French champions Toulon when Bernard Laporte steps down after the 2015/16 season, owner Mourad Boujellal told Canal Plus on Saturday.
Dominguez, who has no experience of coaching at the top level, will join Toulon in January 2016 so as to gain experience of the inner workings of the club before replacing Laporte.
“I can say that Diego Dominguez will be Bernard Laporte’s successor,” Boudjellal said.
“He will arrive on 2 January 2016 and will work for six months with the staff to get to know the team and the club to make it a smooth transition.”
Toulon’s abrasive and controversial boss Mourad Boudjellal is once again threatened to go to court, because a decision did not go his way.
According to reports in the French media Toulon are considering legal action against the two Leicester Tigers supporters involved in a row with their England loose forward Delon Armitage.
Armitage was suspended for 12 weeks as a result of a misconduct complaint lodged against him, following his club’s European Champions Cup defeat against Leicester Tigers.
The 31-year-old Englishman – whose teammate, Italian prop Martin Castrogiovanni, received a suspended four match ban and a fine for a post match rant – was found to have used offensive language towards spectators at Leicester’s Welford Road ground.
Western Province have brushed off reports linking lock Eben Etzebeth with a move to French giants Toulon.
French newspaper Var Matin reported over the weekend that the Springbok lock could join Toulon after next year’s Rugby World Cup.
The 23-year-old Capetonian is seen as an ideal replacement for compatriot Bakkies Botha, who recently retired from international rugby and will leave Toulon at the end of the current European season.
Bakkies Botha could extend his stint at French club Toulon by a few months before calling time on his playing career.
The veteran Springbok lock last month announced his retirement from international rugby after representing his country in 85 Tests.
At the time, Botha said he would see out his contract with Toulon until the end of the current European season, before possibly finishing his playing career at a local Currie Cup team in 2015.
However, it appears Botha could extend his stint at Toulon by a few more months.
Two time Heineken Cup champions Toulon have accepted the challenge presented to them by the Cell C Sharks CEO, John Smit, to play the Cell C Sharks in a North vs South pre-season friendly.
The date for this clash has been set for Thursday 5 February 2015, at the Stade Mayol in Toulon.
We believe that in order to be the best you need to play the best. This match against the best European Rugby Club in recent history marks an ideal opportunity to fine tune our preparation for an important Vodacom Super Rugby season ahead.
Springbok lock and Rugby World Cup winner Bakkies Botha has announced his retirement from international rugby.
Botha, who made his Test debut on 9 November 2002 against France in Marseille, while his 85th and final appearance for South Africa was last Saturday, when he came on as a replacement in the 31-28 victory over England at Twickenham.
During a stellar career, the 35-year-old lock won the Rugby World Cup with the Springboks in 2007 and was victorious at almost every other level of the game.
He has winners’ medals from the Castle Lager Rugby Championship (Tri-Nations), British & Irish Lions Series, Vodacom Super Rugby, Absa Currie Cup and Vodacom Cup, as well as the Heineken Cup and French Top 14.
Botha is the seventh most-capped Springbok of all time, is a three-time SA Rugby Player of the Year nominee (2003, 2004 and 2005) and holds the world record for the most Tests as a lock combination in the starting line-up with Victor Matfield (63).
Toulon second row forward Romain Taofifenua has been cited, following the European Champions Cup Round Two match against Ulster last Saturday 25 October.
Faofifenua is alleged to have kicked the Ulster centre Stuart Olding in the head, in the 47th minute of the Pool Three game at Kingspan Stadium in contravention of Law 10.4(c).
Mourad Boudjellal is planning to take the IRB to court over payments to players on international duty in a groundbreaking move.
The outspoken Toulon president had already made his feelings clear erlier this season when he complained about having to pay the likes of Bryan Habana, Juán Martín Fernández-Lobbe and Bakkies Botha while they were away at the Rugby Championship.
And he has now revealed that he has the support of Premiership bosses in England ahead of a legal battle with the game’s governing body, who he has accused of an ‘abuse of power’.
“We’re in the process of speaking to our lawyers in Paris to see if we go to commercial or administrative court,” he told Var Matin.
“The IRB rules have no provisions for unions to pay the clubs for their internationals. Yet the IRB is made up of the unions.
All Blacks star Ma’a Nonu has been linked to French club Toulon as the European champions ramp up recruitment ahead of next year’s Rugby World Cup.
Respected French newspaper Midi Olympique claims Toulon are close to finalising a two-year deal with the veteran New Zealand midfielder.
Currently away with the Springboks, Bryan Habana hasn’t been distracted by the outlandish statements of Mourad Boudjellal at Toulon.
Habana will be in line for his 102nd cap against the Wallabies in Cape Town next weekend, but the Toulon owner earlier this week demanded that Habana along with Bakkies Botha and Argentina’s Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe return to play for their club.
Perhaps Habana wasn’t distracted because those kind of outbursts from Boudjellal aren’t new. In the same week he also raised the possibility of cancelling Leigh Halfpenny’s contract.
“It’s not up to me to decide on going back. We have the right lines of communication. SA Rugby have been working hard behind the scenes to address the rumours that have been going around this week,” Habana exclusively told Planet Rugby.
Cardiff Blues and Ospreys are interested in signing Leigh Halfpenny if his Toulon contract is terminated.
Toulon president Mourad Boudjellal says Halfpenny’s ongoing injuries could lead to his departure without playing a game since arriving for 2014-15.
Blues director and Wales legend Gareth Edwards said: “We’d welcome him with open arms.”
Ospreys coach Steve Tandy said: “We’d always be interested in the quality of Halfpenny, but it’s paper talk.”
Toulon president Mourad Boudjellal has demanded that Bryan Habana and Bakkies Botha quit the Springboks’ current Rugby Championship campaign and report for club duty.
Toulon recently lost 28-24 to Stade Francais, and currently sit at third on the Top 14 log.
Boudjellal is clearly not pleased with his side’s form at present, and has publicly lamented the club’s lengthy list of injuries as well as the absence of international stars like Habana, Botha, and Pumas flanker Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe.
Matt Giteau has long been lost to the Wallabies for next year’s World Cup, but the bidding in French rugby for his services speaks volumes about his value as a player.
Giteau, an established star in the Top 14 champion Toulon club in the south of France, has reportedly become the target of the Paris-based Racing Metro club with a €1 million ($1.4 million) a year offer reportedly on the table.
The short-term future of James O’Connor and his return to Australia is assured, but doubts remain about his long-term plans after the World Cup in Britain next year.
Queensland are expecting O’Connor, who has 44 Test caps with the Wallabies, to remain in Brisbane after announcing last Friday that the back had signed a two-year deal with them – starting next season.
Ireland fly-half Jonathan Sexton faces a race against time to be fit for the autumn internationals after breaking his jaw while playing for Racing Metro.
The 29-year-old British and Irish Lions star was injured in a heavy clash with Craig Burden in Sunday’s French top-flight contest against Toulon.
South African hooker Burden was sin-binned for the challenge.