Snubbed stars focus on Top 14
August 25, 2011
Mathieu Bastareaud is determined to start a new chapter with Touloun © Getty Images
The French Orange Top 14 kicks off this weekend with clubs and players alike determined to focus on domestic challenges despite the inevitable distractions of the Rugby World Cup.
Reigning champions Toulouse open the new season against Bayonne on Friday night with a host of players away with the France squad preparing for the tournament in New Zealand. Thierry Dusautoir, Maxime Medard and William Servat among a host of players called up to Marc Lievremont's Word Cup squad.
However, former All Black Luke McAllister has secured an early release from his contract with the New Zealand Rugby Union and will be looking to put his World Cup snub behind him as will fellow new recruit Lionel Beauxis. And Toulouse flanker Yannick Nyanga believes a number of younger players will also seize the opportunities created by the World Cup absentees.
"Suddenly, the youth club will have to take responsibility," he told L'Equipe. "I think it's an exciting challenge. I still want to progress. I want to reach the next level and settle down in time with this club. I am ready to assume more responsibilities. We will have less depth on the bench to call upon now."
Following a turbulent last season, Bayonne have invested heavily over the summer Neemia Tialata, Joe Rokocoko, Cedric Heymans, Mark Chisholm and Mike Phillips all signing for the club. Though it remains to be seen when they will be available for action in the Top 14.
Racing Metro face last season's surprise Top 14 finalists Montpellier in their opening game on Friday in a rerun of last season's play-off semi-final. Racing will be boosted by the availability of France forward Sebastian Chabal after he missed out on selection for the global showpiece.
"In any case I knew that my international career wasn't going to last forever. I was counting on it lasting until the World Cup. Unfortunately it's not up to me to decide and it ended beforehand," he told AFP. "But I've dived back again 200 percent into club activities and I'm counting on making the most of these remaining seasons with Racing and not on making myself sick because of this non-selection.
"It's true, compared to other big stables we're less affected by the World Cup. We're missing six or seven players even if they are regularly first choice players. At the beginning of the season even if we host four times in the first five matches we're hosting the big ones (Montpellier, Perpignan, Clermont, Lyon then travel to champions Toulouse). Some would see it as an advantage, others as an inconvenience. It looks easier for us but I remain wary all the same."
Top 14 newcomers Lyon start their campaign away at Clermont Auvergne and they will no doubt relying heavily on the experience of star signings Ricky Januarie and Juan Manuel Leguizamon this season. While Leguizamon is part of Argentina's World Cup squad, Januarie will hope to give his new side early impetuous.
Elsewhere, big-spending Toulon begin at home against last season's Heineken Cup quarter-finalists Biarritz. Toulon will be without England fly-half Jonny Wilkinson and new signings Bakkies Botha and Luke Burgess for the next two months. And they are also set to lose director of rugby Philippe Saint-Andre who will take over as France coach following the World Cup.
However Australia playmaker Matt Giteau could link up with the club sooner than expected following his axing from the Wallabies squad and France centre Mathieu Bastareaud has already underlined his determination to usher in a new phase of his career.
"When I was a child, the France team was a dream. Today it's an objective. Playing good games with Toulon, feeling as comfortable as possible to get on the right track," Bastareaud told L'Equipe. "It's logical that I wasn't selected for the World Cup. I wasn't able to raise the level of my game at the right time while to win the World Cup you have to take the best.
"Today I want to do everything I can to become the best again. I want to recapture my best form ... as quickly as possible."
Stade Francais will start at home against the recently-promoted Bordeaux-Bègles who will have former Northampton Saints fullback Bruce Reihana in their ranks for the new season. Perpignan, who fell at the semi-final hurdle in Europe last season, will open against Castres while Brive, complete with former England international Shane Geraghty, face Agen.
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