Finn Russell to Damian Penaud: The latest Top 14 transfer rumours

The transfer rumour mill never stops in France’s Top 14. Here are the latest whispers on player movement – or otherwise.

Finn Russell

In September, the French rugby media were full of reports linking All Black Beauden Barrett and Bordeaux’s Matthieu Jalibert with impending moves to Racing 92. The corollary to that would be the Scot’s departure. But Russell has insisted rumours of his exit are both premature and exaggerated, telling Midi Olympique that he was loving his life in Paris, and his agents were in town, and he’d be delighted to extend his stay. The latest is that Racing have made Russell an offer. Whether it’s one he can’t refuse remains to be seen – and maybe they’ll have to give him a sneak preview of their 23/24 away kit, first…

Beauden Barrett

That doesn’t mean Racing’s interest in the New Zealand international has waned. Far from it, according to club owner Jacky Lorenzetti, who told RMC Sport recently: “I’m going to tell you a secret. I had dinner with him [Barrett], his wife, Laurent Travers, and my wife four years ago. The discussions are long. (Laughs) As a club president, you can’t help but be interested in Beauden Barrett. We are looking, but we have other possibilities. The file is in full development. We have time, we’re not going to rush.”

Damian Penaud

Arguably the big domestic name on the transfer market in France right now, the winger who scored a sensational match-winning try against Australia in the opening match of France’s three-Test November international programme, has unsurprisingly attracted the interest of a number of big-gun clubs knowing his current contract runs out in June. Several approaches – from Racing 92, La Rochelle, and Bordeaux – have already been rejected, reports say. Toulouse, on the other hand, have caught the winger’s eye. It may mean some juggling on the club’s part, to remain salary cap compliant, but it seems Penaud now has a simple choice – Ernest Wallon, or Marcel Michelin. 

Matthis Lebel

Penaud’s decision may have ramifications for Toulouse’s Lebel. His contract runs to 2024, but could be cut short if Penaud decides to sign. Lyon are said to be watching with interest, while Toulouse may be willing to find a way to keep their four-time international. 

Demba Bamba

He’s currently on the sidelines with injury, but France and Lyon tighthead Bamba isn’t out of the recruitment headlines despite officially being under contract until 2024. Pierre Mignoni, now at Toulon, is reportedly interested in bringing Bamba to Stade Mayol – and he knows better than most the release clause options in the player’s contract.

Nepo Laulala

Toulouse have lined up the Auckland Blues’ prop as a replacement for Charlie Faumina. He’s due to head to the Pink City after the World Cup.

Mathieu Jalibert

Those Jalibert rumours – he was a hot topic last season, too – aren’t entirely extinguished, despite Racing giving up their bid. The other wealthy club within the greater Paris area, Stade Francais, have reportedly set their sights on the international fly-half – and don’t yet seem to be put off by the hard-ball reluctance of Bordeaux owner Laurent Marti to part with his foundation-stone player without a fight. But Stade are hedging their bets…

Arthur Iturria

Clermont captain Iturria has not featured for France since the 2019 World Cup, but – until his red card at Castres – has enjoyed an eye-catching start to the season, the last of his current deal. He’s in talks to extend, but both Bordeaux and Toulon are reportedly interested, and the player himself has made no secret of his desire to return to his native Basque Country before the end of his career. He’s 28 now, so it may be a little early for a glorious Bayonne return, but not completely out of the picture.

Donovan Taofifenua

To the disappointment of several Top 14 clubs, winger Taofifenua seems certain to sign a new deal to remain at Racing 92. Reports say that incoming head coach Stuart Lancaster was keen to keep the former France under-20 international at Plessis-Robinson, despite the richesse of new signings Josua Tuisova, Vinaya Habosi and Wame Naituvi.

Tristan Tedder

After being unable to settle at Toulouse, the JIFF-qualified South African has caught a few eyes during his time at Perpignan. Stade Francais – who will be without Nicolas Sanchez – are reportedly interested, and are said to have already made a sizeable offer, despite the Jalibert rumours. But the scout who brought him to Toulouse as a young man from Sharks in 2016 was current Castres head coach Pierre-Henry Broncan and it’s rumoured that Tedder – who also plays 15 – may be tempted to head there rather than the capital because of family links in the Tarn. None of which changes the fact Perpignan really want to keep him. 

UPDATE 10/11/2022: Rugbyrama now reports Tedder has signed for Racing 92, who had successfully managed to keep their interest in him under the radar.

Jamie George

One from the English media, here. The Rugby Paper has reported that the England and Saracens hooker is a target for Top 14 side Clermont – for whom both Adrien Pelissie and Etienne Fourcade are out of contract at the end of June. Word is the club has put together ‘a substantial offer’.

Loris Zarantonello

Not a name necessarily known to non-ProD2 watchers, but news of the 22-year-old hooker’s switch from Agen to Castres at the end of the season hit the headlines, after Agen coach Bernard Goutta publicly and angrily accused the player, his agent and by extension his future club, of not playing entirely by the unwritten rules of contract negotiations.

Baptiste Couilloud

The Lyon and France scrum-half has, reports say, activated a release clause in his contract and is set to depart a club he has called home since he was five years old at the end of the season. He is a priority target for Stade Francais – a club desperately seeking a settled and consistent squad – and their incoming management dream team of Laurent Labit and Karim Ghezal.

Joe Marchant

There are more than one type of transfer rumour in rugby these days, as in any other game. There’s the first-phase rumour – player x has been linked with a move to club y, for example. And then there’s the red zone rumour. The done deal. Quins’ centre Marchant is in the red zone rumour category. His move to Stade Francais, to reunite with Paul Gustard, eventually under Laurent Labit and Karim Ghezal, is signed, sealed and delivered, according to reports.

Alex Arrate

On the flipside, centre Arrate is a victim of the continuing winds of change blowing through the corridors of Stade Jean Bouin. Castres have, it’s said, moved quickly to grab the centre as a replacement for the retiring Thomas Combezou, after it was confirmed his contract would not be renewed at the end of the season. Offer made and verbally accepted, by all accounts.

Thomas Du Toit

Lyon are said to be very keen on the South African, and have apparently tabled an offer. But the player has yet to decide whether to accept, in part because English Premiership side Bath are also making overtures.

Bernard Le Roux

Currently out for an extended period with a brain injury, the Racing 92 and France lock-cum-backrow is under contract until 2024 – but club president Jacky Lorenzetti recently raised the possibility that Le Roux may retire sooner rather than later. Wenceslas Lauret, too, is rumoured to be considering hanging up his boots.

Theo Idjellidaine 

Watchers of France’s under-20s may recall scrum-half Theo Idjellidaine. The young Toulouse player has been on loan at ProD2 side Agen for a couple of seasons, now, and word is he has now been offered a permanent deal at the club – which, after a torrid couple of campaigns, is pushing for promotion this season

Pierre Popelin

Veteran Argentinian Benjamin Urdapilleta is widely expected to retire at the end of the season, which is why Castres, long light on 10 cover, have been busy trawling the recruitment market for fly-halves. It seems they have one in La Rochelle’s versatile Paul Popelin. The currently injured 27-year-old has scarcely got a look-in at Marcel Deflandre this season, and is heading to Stade Pierre Fabre in search of game time, whether or not the club also does sign Tedder.

Mohamed Haouas

The international prop is under contract at Montpellier until 2024, but reports in France claim the club is willing to let him leave the GGL a season early. Cue pricked ears from at least two clubs keen to sign a tighthead – Clermont, and Stade Francais. But the €500,000-plus release fee may be a stumbling block. Certainly Clermont’s interest will have waned after Christian Ojovan agreed a contract extension.

Ben Volavola

He’s so far seen just 19 minutes action in the Top 14 this season – and now, the Fiji and Racing 92 fly-half is being courted by high-flying ProD2 side Agen, who are seeking to replace Raphael Lagarde and Danre Gerber, who are both leaving the club at the end of the season.

Vincent Rattez

Montpellier want the French international winger to extend his stay at the GGL. Toulon want him to move eastwards along the Mediterranean coast. “I will know more in the coming weeks,” Rattez told Rugbyrama a few weeks ago. “These are difficult decisions to make but whatever happens, my decision will be guided by the sporting project.”

Gabriel Ngandebe

Over on Montpellier’s other wing, however, things seem a little more certain. His contract has a one-year extension option, which could be activated, but it seems more likely the flyer is set to sign a new deal.

Teddy Iribaren

After five seasons at Racing 92, scrum-half Iribaren will swap La Defense Arena for La Rochelle’s Stade Marcel Deflandre at the end of the current campaign. The 32-year-old’s departure was not necessarily a surprise – even after Maxime Machenaud joined Bayonne at the end of last season, he was firmly second choice at Racing behind Nolan Le Garrec. But it does leave Racing with just one senior specialist nine on the books that will need to be filled.

Jules Le Bail

Iribaren’s arrival and Berjon’s extension means there’s no room at Marcel Deflandre for Jules Le Bail, who is being let go at the end of the season. No confirmation on where he may end up – but Bayonne look favourites to land the 30-year-old.

Vinaya Habosi

One of Fiji Drua’s players of the Super Rugby season, Habosi has agreed terms to join Racing 92, despite interest from Bordeaux and La Rochelle.

Ben Tameifuna

Toulon were said to be interested in the Tongan tighthead, who’s out of contract at the end of the Top 14 season – but it looks like he’s most likely to sign a new deal at Bordeaux, the club he joined from Racing 92 in 2020.

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 match previews, reviews, features, interviews, live blogs, feel free to contact me

And, please read my weekly French rugby column in The Rugby Paper every Sunday. And I also round-up all the weekend’s Top 14 action on the Irish Examiner website.

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