A contract storm at Racing, busy trading in fly-halves, and the prospect of contract releases – it’s early in the Top 14 season, but the transfer market waits for no one – especially with the financial clout of Japan rugby focusing attention on star players’ futures. Here’s a rundown of some of the big contract rumours so far
Fly-half trading in the French rugby transfer market is hectic this year – I wrote about it here – with a number of players out of contract, some moving and plenty of clubs looking. Toulon’s Belleau (25), who returned from a long spell out with injury at the start of the season and found himself – until last week’s 13-9 win over Brive – mostly playing at centre, is one of the most sought-after. Clermont have declared an interest; Montpellier want him to replace Handre Pollard; and, according to Sud Ouest at least, Pau, are said to be making overtures, while Toulon coach Patrice Collazo has reportedly recently suggested he’s keen to keep Belleau in the Var.
Officially, Lopez (32) is contracted to Clermont until 2023, but accepted wisdom for some time has been that he will leave in June 2022. Reports said that he was homesick for the southwest of France, and that Biarritz were keen to offer him a contract … but the club’s possible switch from the far southwest to the far north of France – Lille – makes that ‘homesick’ line difficult to swallow. And everything depends on whether Clermont will let him go – there’s no news on that, yet.
The CV of Lyon’s 23-year-old fly-half Berdeu is generating interest at Pau, according to several reports. He’s enjoyed a blistering start to the season – but now Lima Sopoaga has arrived in southeast France after an agreed extended break, he may find himself slipping down the pecking order. Not that Lyon will be willing to let him leave without a fight. But a number one slot may prove too tempting.
A flurry of reports earlier this month suggested that Racing were keen to pry Jalibert (22) from Bordeaux a year before his contract ends. Meanwhile, Bordeaux boss Laurent Marti has made it perfectly clear he wants to keep his young star and build a team around him. So much so that he’s keen to start negotiations on a new deal now. And the player has said he has had no contact with Racing, and that he will honour his current contract, which runs to 2023.
At least one of the 20 or so players at Racing 92 who is out of contract at the end of the season won’t be staying on. Hooker Baubigny (23) is leaving after contract talks hit salary demand buffers, according to reports. Where he’s going remains a mystery, after Toulon publicly denied reports he was heading Mayol-wards.
Another rising Racing star who’s leaving at the end of the season. The prop, who’s probably on the verge of a national call-up, is set to join La Rochelle next season.
Thomas (28) has almost but not quite played this season because of injury – though it’s reported he could return to action before the end of October against. It’s also easily forgotten that he only signed a one-year contract extension at Racing after Gael Fickou joined the club late last season. That deal finishes at the end of June 2022 … but word is club boss Jacky Lorenzetti wants to tie him to a new one.
Lorenzetti has already extended deals with Henry Chavancy, Eddy Ben Arous, Camille Chat and Antoine Gibert and has – according to Le Figaro – new contract plans for Ibrahim Diallo, Maxime Machenaud, Kurtley Beale and Juan Imhoff.
It’s long been assumed that French international fullback Jaminet (22) will head to Ernest Wallon at the end of the season, despite having another year on his contract at Perpignan, as Toulouse made merry with their Cheslin Kolbe windfall. But reports earlier this month that a deal was done have been dismissed by Perpignan president Francois Riviere – but in a way that suggests it’s going to be done at some point.
This is why Toulouse like him. And he kicks, too…
Henry Slade and Sam Simmonds
After Cheslin Kolbe, reports surfaced from the UK that Toulon were keen to add some prime English beef to their squads – in the shape of Exeter duo Slade (28) and Simmonds (26). Both would make some sort of sense, Simmonds particularly, but there are issues. They’re both contracted to 2023 – which would mean Toulon boss Bernard Lemaitre would have to search the back of the sofa again to release them from their contracts. And there are JIFF matters to consider.
Another Exeter player attracting French interest, according to reports. Having lost Georges-Henri Colombe to La Rochelle, Racing 92 are said to be interested in the CV of Exeter and England tighthead Williams (30).
Another of the current crop of young French internationals apparently heading towards Toulouse is Lyon centre Barassi (23). Currently recovering from an ankle injury that may or may not keep him out of contention for the November internationals, Barassi was namechecked by France coach Fabien Galthie after an impressive Australia tour. One to watch, whether he stays at Lyon, or heads to Toulouse.
Yet another young France international star that Toulouse are said to be eyeing covetously, while Racing 92 are waiting in the wings to attract his attention. But, as with Jaminet, reports of a done deal were premature. Montpellier coach Philippe Saint-Andre last week ended his vow of silence on the matter to say: “We are not used to parting with our best players. Arthur is trained in Montpellier, he is an international and a leader of our team. We intend to keep him.” He has, it’s claimed, slapped a three-year deal on the table in an effort to keep Vincent – out for most of the rest of the season with a knee ligament injury that prompted a rare response from France coach Fabien Galthie and officials at the FFR – at the GGL. Is it enough to persuade him to stay at his hometown club? Time will tell.
This one could come sooner than the end of the season, if reports are accurate. Word is Racing want to loan out their 21-year-old phenom, who’s looking for gametime but struggling to break into the matchday squad at La Defense Arena. He started seven Top 14 games last season and has only featured twice this season, once as a 10-minute sub. Apparently, and unsurprisingly, several Top 14 rivals have indicated their interest.
The Fiji international backrow has the advantage of being JIFF qualified, which adds value at contract time. The former Bordeaux and Vannes player has been at Brive since 2019 – but it seems his direct and powerful style has caught the eye of the staff at Racing 92, if reports are accurate. No deal has been done yet, but negotiations are described as ‘advanced’. Bordeaux, too, were reportedly keen to bring back their former academy player.
La Rochelle may have gained a tighthead Georges-Henri Colombe, but they look set to lose loosehead Wardi (25) – another player on France coach Fabien Galthie’s watchlist – to Montpellier. It would be something of a homecoming for the player, who grew up in the city and started his career less than an hour down the A9 in Beziers.
La Rochelle have wasted no time looking for a replacement for Wardi… RMC reported last week that they are interested in Bordeaux’s Paiva (25), currently understudy to club captain Jefferson Poirot and keen to increase his playing time. Montpellier’s Mohamed Haouas is also an option, reports suggest.
It’s been an odd few years for Parra – who’s still only 32. The arrival of Sebastien Bezy and Greig Laidlaw’s stint in the Auvergne have lessened the aura of a player who was once untouchable, to the extent that – it’s reported – he may be inclined to leave at the end of the season. Again. You may remember he was given permission to talk to other clubs before eventually deciding to stay put in 2019. As for possible destinations – Stade Francais has been mentioned…
Not much of a secret, this. The Japan star is set to sign a new deal with Clermont. Coach Jono Gibbes told La Montagne: “There are benefits on both sides. He’s a player who totally fits the DNA of the club. And on our side, we have been able to give him an environment where he can progress in order to prepare well for the next World Cup. We are optimistic about his extension.”
Babillot (28) has been a Castres player since joining the club’s mini ‘ecole de rugby’ section in 2003. But, reports in early October suggested that former coach Christophe Urios, under whom he won the Top 14 title in 2018, wanted to take him to Bordeaux. Babillot – out of action now until 2022 after picking up a thigh injury in the defeat at La Rochelle – had rejected Toulon’s overtures a season earlier to extend his stay in the Tarn. Now, word is he’s set to turn down Urios in favour of his current – and, so far, only – club.
After a decade in Paris, in which he has scored 60 tries (and counting), Waisea is said to be heading to Toulon in June, where he could end up operating on the other wing to Kolbe. That’s quite scary.
We know France international fly-half Hastoy (24) is leaving Pau a year early – the club has publicly confirmed as much. We don’t officially know where he’s going. But it’s La Rochelle.
The Pau hooker has been a regular rumour-generator. Two years ago, he was said to be on his way to one of Clermont, Castres or Montpellier but, in the end, he stayed in the Bearn. Now, however, it’s reported the 26 year old has agreed a three-year deal with La Rochelle, where he’ll be reunited with fly-half Hastoy.
Giovanni Habel Kuffner
The Samoan backrow (26) has been at Pau since 2015 – but it has been reported that he’s in talks with Stade Francais over a switch to Paris at the end of the current campaign.
My name is James Harrington. I’m a freelance sports journalist based in France, writing mostly about French club and international rugby. If, after reading this, you feel the urge to commission me for some match previews, reviews, features, interviews, live blogs, feel free to contact me