The big clubs never die: after a transition period marked by a black season in terms of results, Toulon is once again scared when it comes to going to Toulouse on Sunday (9:00 p.m.), to the champion of France who has known the same air hole two years earlier.
. New cycles
A sold-out stadium (33,000 people) to see the two most successful clubs of the decade - 4 titles each, Top 14 and European Cup combined - battle it out to consolidate their place at the top of the table (3rd and 4th ) ... The poster, a classic of the 1980s, has a completely different flavor than the previous season when the ghost of the RCT, taken up at short notice by Patrice Collazo, had been swept 39-0.
For the first time since 2011, the Var club failed to qualify for the final phase which crowned ... the Stade Toulousain. Which had experienced the same dishonor two years earlier, failing to qualify for the first time in over 40 years.
"We were at the end of the cycle and we had to renew," said Collazo. "It was necessary to put certain players in confidence by telling them that they had all the qualities, beyond rugby, human to assume this role."
If Collazo "begins to reap the fruits of his labor", according to Toulouse coach Régis Sonnes, it is because his devil of president Mourad Boudjellal understood that he had to be given time. A chance that his predecessors Diego Dominguez, Mike Ford and Fabien Galthié did not have, sacked after a year maximum. Bernard Laporte's successor, the man who brought three European Cups and a Brennus Shield on the Bay between 2011 and 2016, was long to find ...
"Of course, you have to aim for the long term," says the new strong man of the RCT, Bernard Lemaitre, who will become president at the end of the season. "Toulon is not going to be European champion and French champion after two years."
In Toulouse, Ugo Mola took four years to restore the most successful club in France to the level where Guy Novès had hoisted and maintained it for three decades (1988-2015). There too, the head coach "had difficult years but was kept in his post by his presidents", underlines Bernard Lemaitre.
Mola and Collazo have another point in common in surviving a change of direction. René Bouscatel passed the hand to Didier Lacroix without too much turmoil in the summer of 2017, and Boudjellal will leave Lemaitre sole master on board in the summer of 2020. A smooth transition that preserves the institution and the sports project.
. A renewed pool
Novès and Laporte were inseparable from a generation of splendid players who were just as difficult to replace as the technicians. The two red and black houses ended up finding the right combination: make way for young people, well supervised by a few shoe sizes.
Toulouse has thus put an end to seven years of famine by installing Thomas Ramos, Antoine Dupont, Julien Marchand, Peato Mauvaka or Romain Ntamack at the controls ... guided, in front, by the New Zealand world champions Jerome Kaino (36) and Charlie Faumuina (33). Foreign stars, of course, but above all, targeted recruitment in positions that are harder to fill than the average.
Toulon, which conquered Europe thanks to Jonny Wilkinson, Bakkies Botha or Matt Giteau, ended up taking a similar direction with the entry of Lemaitre in the capital of the club: finished the display of big names, place in the center of training and "smart" recruitment, underlines the new owner.
This season, around thirty players from the training center are training with the pros, in the wake of a title of champion of France Hopes. The second line Swan Rebbadj, 24, embodies this succession: he has played all the league matches so far, each time as a titular player!
Rebbadj can however count on two legendary players, Eben Etzebeth and Sergio Parisse, to progress. "Toulon will continue to attract players of this level. It is indeed players (...) who pull the others up," says Bernard Lemaitre, who also highlights all the many failed imports, such as that of the New Zealand winger Julian Savea, still at the club.
"Adding big names is very expensive and is not a guarantee of success." Times have changed, but Toulon is back.
Referee: Mathieu Raynal
Toulouse: Ramos - Huget, Guitoune, Ntamack, Médard - (o) Z. Holmes, (m) S. Bézy - F. Cros, Kaino, Elstadt - Tekori, Ro. Arnold - Aldegheri, Mauvaka, Castets
Toulon: Heem - Ikpefan, J. Savea, Belleau, Cordin - (o) Carbonel, (m) Serin - R. Lakafia, Parisse, Ollivon - Alainu'uese, Etzebeth - Gigashvili, Etrillard, Fresia
Toulouse: G. Marchand, Baille, Galan, S. Tolofua, A. Dupont, Ahki, A. Bonneval, Van Dyk
Toulon: C. Tolofua, S. Taofifenua, Rebbadj, Ory, Dakuwaqa, Hériteau, Webb, Setiano
© 2019 AFP