We're delighted to welcome BigJoeShep back into the HoR writing fold; here he shares some thoughts on last weekend's Top14 clash at the Stade Olympique Yves de Manoir.
THE BATTLE OF THE MONETARY SUPERPOWERS!
Well this 3rd Round of the French Top 14 threw together 2 of the French rugby superpowers. Racing Metro, whose annual budget this season is €25.36Million, and RC Toulon €25.37Million.
Both have an extensive array of world class international talent, especially Toulon. Racing to be fair, are more of a French “Focused” club, with far more home grown players than Toulon.
Regardless, the plethora of new players they have bought in over the recent period appear to be settling into a tight squad. Since their rise from the 2nd league in 2009 – 10 season, they now have one of the finest training facilities in Europe with plans to build a purpose built new stadium in the heart of the Paris financial district.
Within their line-up those they can call upon their home grown talents of inspirational Capt. and hooker Dmitri Szarzewski and Prop Luc Ducalcon. Georgian Prop Davit Khinchagishvili or South African Brian Mujati. Second Row Locks sees François van der Merwe from South Africa, Luke Charteris from Wales or Juandre Kruger from South Africa. Flankers include Camille Gérondeau and Bernard Le Roux from France and Dan Lydiate from Wales. At No 8, Antonie Claassen from France or South Africa’s Jacques Cronjé.
Racing Metros back line includes Maxime Machenaud of France or Mike Phillips from Wales at Scrum Half. At Fly Half either Johan Goosen from South Africa or Ireland’s Jonny Sexton (Coached in France currently by legendary Irishman Ronan O’Gara). At Centre they have 3 talented Frenchmen to choose from OR New Zealand’s Casey Laulala or Jamie Roberts from Wales. Wingers include Argentinian Juan José Imhoff and France’s very exciting 20 year old, Teddy Thomas and finally why not try Brice Dulin of France!
Toulon just keep on buying…….again since their rise from the French 2nd division which only really began in the 2008-09 season, to their owner Mourad Boudjellal who made his billions in comic books and cartoons, this is a very serious business. He has already in a few years had a number of high profile spats with the French rugby authorities on how AND why they need to move French rugby forward.
How he and Toulon manage to get around the “Salary Cap” is anyone’s guess, but shoving monies through a number of different companies and playing “Bonuses” is I suppose a part of modern day professional game…..Not that I would agree wholeheartedly. In their playing staff, RC Toulon have a who’s who including Hooker, South Africa’s Craig Burden, Props Italy’s Martin Castrogiovanni, Xavier Chiocci from France and club captain New Zealand’s Carl Hayman. In the second Row, South Africa’s Bakkies Botha and New Zealand’s Ali Williams, Flankers, England’s Steffon Armitage and Georgia’s Mamuka Gorgodze and finally at No 8s, Argentina’s Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe and New Zealand’s Chris Masoe. Their backs include at Scrum Half, South Africa’s Michael Claassens and Frances Sébastien Tillous-Borde. At Fly Half, Freddy Michalak and the temp addition of Australia’s James O’Connor. Centre sees Mathieu Bastareaud and Maxime Mermoz from France and Matt Giteau from Australia. In the Wings there’s, South African Bryan Habana, Fijis Josua Tuisova, New Zealand’s David Smith and Rudi Wulf whilst at Full Back, take a choice from England’s Delon Armitage, Leigh Halfpenny from Wales or Drew Mitchell from Australia. Oh…This is NOT their full squad to call from?
As for the game, well Toulon rested a few key players, but with their squad the depth they have, who IS actually key? Either way, there was no Giteau, Halfpenny or Armitage brothers.
The first 6 - 8 minutes saw a fast and furious approach from both teams. Good play from Racings Teddy Thomas on the wing shows his potential whilst Toulon were very good on the break and their ability to move the ball at speed from one side of the park to the other is sublime and shows just why they have won the European Rugby Cup these last 2 seasons. On 16 minutes however a late tackle by Toulon Hooker Craig Burdon saw him sin binned for 10 mins. Racing immediately came to life and pressed hard and eventually the numbers showed and the talented second row, Francois Van Der Merwe crossed the try line. With a Sexton conversion, it was Racing Metro 7 v RC Toulon 0.
On 27 minutes and following a fumbled ball by Sexton, Toulon came away from their own 22 line, again right across the park at speed and James O’Connors pace and hand off were enough to see him over. A conversion by Freddy Michalak saw the score now Racing Metro 7 v RC Toulon 7. 4 Minutes later however and following an infringement during the break down, a Racing penalty was converted by Maxime Machenaud and saw Racing Metro 10 v RC Toulon 7. This is how it stayed till half time.
The 2nd half started again with a flurry, but 2 or 3 handling errors by Racing in the early minutes ruined their build up play. On 48 minutes, some excellent build up saw Casey Laulala, recently arrived in Racing from Irish province Munster surge from the wing, back into the centre and the following pick up by Maxime Machenaud with an exquisite dummy saw him away and cross the whitewash for Racings second try. Again converted by Jonny Sexton Racing Metro 17 v RC Toulon 7. Toulon fought back immediately and only minutes later following an offside, saw them convert the subsequent penalty. Racing Metro 17 v RC Toulon 10.
Toulon really began to build some momentum and on 61 minutes they again spread the play from wing across to wing but fail at the final hurdle despite having numbers over. What lovely open, flowing rugby to watch and following a good Racing rolling maul on 69 minutes they were awarded a penalty, but it was placed wide. There was no real threats again until 78th minute, when Racing were awarded a penalty at the breakdown. Again Machinaud places wide and the game finishes Racing Metro 17 v RC Toulon 10.
Overall a great game to watch. You can clearly see that Toulon have the class, ability and squad to be strong on their day and push for a 3rd European trophy in a row. That said they are beatable as Racing and other teams previously have showed. Toulon never like to lose, however after watching them a few times these last 2 seasons, I wonder whether it’s all about full strength and all in for the European competition? Racing Metro seem to have a team that is well drilled and have a good understanding of each other’s play. Despite being beaten though, RC Toulon remain top of the French Rugby Top 14 with 9 pts from 3 games.
The downside of this match (for Racing Metro) was Jonny Sexton going off mid-way through the 2nd half with what turned out to be a broken jaw. Should see him back just in time for the 6 Nations!! Surprises in this round though saw Clermont Auvergne beaten at home by Montpellier 21 – 20 and newly promoted La Rochelle beating the once mighty Toulouse 35 v 27.
Contributions to the game:
Toulon: Freddy Michalak and James O’Connor
Racing Metro: Teddy Thomas and Casey Laulala
I will leave you with some thoughts. In the professional and some may say, money-grabbing, glory seeking at any costs game we are seeing creeping in, how do we keep the spirit of rugby but allow private finance to provide much needed funds (for many clubs) but stop these financiers taking over and literally “Buying” trophies.
Is it right to allow clever usage of bonus payments and other methods to get around the salary cap measures? I wonder whether there should be spending caps on clubs to allow at least an equal opportunity for all teams PLUS allowing home grown talent to develop (regardless of the country)?
Crazy money buys anything, but is it right? Are the English selectors right to only pick players who are playing in the English Premiership of Rugby thereby discarding potential players the opportunity of representing their country e.g.one of the world’s greatest Flankers in Steffon Armitage? Should there be a restriction on the number of foreign players in a squad?
Even Australia are looking at changing their rules so players can get at least one full season abroad. Does playing in different hemispheres develop a better player? All these questions and more are, I’m sure discussed, debated and conjectured over in clubs, bars, homes each week. Does having separate International and Regional / Provincial setups cause (or in the Welsh case ACTUAL) conflict and damage?
I’m no rugby expert, but for what it’s worth, whilst I’d love to see my own team Leinster Rugby win everything and all the time, I do love the way we mix the plethora of home grown talent with a slight mix of international class players and yes the IRFU control a lot of that. I do however still see that private funding could still develop the Irish game around that. Perhaps the issue is private finance and those that supply it, see it only as a business and want a return on investment or worse, their egos are used to winning and ergo, they’ll do whatever it takes with enough monies to do that with!!
@bigjoeshep is the Owner and Head of Information & Knowledge Management at Digital Knowledge Zone. An avid Leinster & Ireland Rugby fan, he came to rugby at the late age of 24, was a tight head prop, had at least 2 good runs in every game and retired at only 36 after 3 operations on his legs and now forms the 4th "virtual" person in a front row each time his beloved teams are playing (much to the annoyance of his suffering girlfriend who has to put up with being "embraced" by the Big Fella at each scrum!!!)