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Top 14 Transfer Special: Phillips set for Bayonne as the big names keep arriving 

13 June 2011

Wales scrum-half Mike Phillips in action for the Ospreys
Basque glory? Ospreys scrum-half Mike Phillips
has reportedly signed with Top 14's Bayonne
Photo: Michael Paler

Wales and Ospreys scrum-half Mike Phillips has signed to play for Top 14 side Bayonne.

The long-rumoured transfer appeared to stall last week due to Phillips' reported wage demands, but it now appears that common ground has been found and that the Welsh international has agreed a two-year deal with the option of another year.

Phillips' capture comes less than a week after Bayonne tore up the pre-contract agreement they had with former All Black Byron Kelleher - who has subsequently gone on to sign for Stade Francais.

Kelleher had initially committed to Bayonne while Bernard Laporte was working with the Basque club, but the latter's re-emergence at Stade Francais appeared to throw a spanner in the former Stade Toulousain's plans.

But now Bayonne have filled that gap by signing Welsh international Phillips. The 28-year-old was allowed to leave the Ospreys despite having two years left on his contract after agitating for a move. He follows fellow Wales internationals James Hook (Perpignan) and Lee Byrne (Clermont Auvergne) to Top 14 next season.

Phillips is the latest big-name signing to join Bayonne in the off-season, following the likes of All Blacks Joe Rokocoko, Sione Lauaki and Neemia Tialata. The Basques have also signed France international Cédric Heymans (from Stade Toulousain) as well as Wallaby lock Mark Chisholm (from the Brumbies).

They are clearly determined to improve on last season's seventh-placed finish as they continue to strengthen their squad.

Top 14 League Table 2010/11

Bayonne's capture of Phillips continues the trend of international stars opting for Euro riches in France after the 2011 World Cup, with big-name signings arriving from all corners of the globe. Further transfers will be announced in the coming hours and days as the closing of the official window approaches, with the futures of Mathieu Bastareaud, James Haskell and Ma'a Nonu among those as yet unresolved.

One proposed transfer that had been mooted last week appears to have hit the rocks this weekend with Julien Dupuy's suggested move to Perpignan now up in the air. Dupuy's expected departure from Stade Francais had been expedited following the club's announcement they had signed Byron Kelleher, but Perpignan president Paul Goze has subsequently denied the Catalans had been in contact with the former Leicester and France scrum-half.

That in itself, of course, does not mean the transfer may yet still go ahead, while uncertainty still surrounds the future destinations of Dupuy's erstwhile colleagues Haskell and Bastareaud.

Top 14 Transfers 2010/11

The fallen Paris giants announced a host of new signings last week, and also added a brace of new coaches, but that news was still overshadowed by the release of Haskell and an unseemly battle to try and retain the services of want-away France international Bastareaud.

The once mighty club failed to qualify for the Heineken Cup for a second successive year this season but heralded the arrival of new era on Tuesday when confirming the return of former head coach Bernard Laporte as its new vice-president. Laporte, who said he had no desire to usurp current head coach Michael Cheika, had been intrinsic to the recent multi-million euro financial investment by a Canadian consortium which ensured Stade weren’t relegated by the DNACG after yet another operating loss. The man who led Stade to five domestic titles in a decade before taking over the French national team also unveiled a whole roster of new arrivals, along with several high profile departures as he sought to reverse the club’s recent malaise.

“We want players of character,” Laporte told reporters. “We need to find the will to do things together. I got the feeling the players wanted to control things. I can assure you, that is finished,” he added.

Those arriving in the French capital this summer are former All Blacks scrum-half Kelleher (from Stade Toulousain), Argentine fly-half Felipe Contepomi (from Toulon), former England winger Paul Sackey (also from Toulon), utility back Paul Warwick (from Munster), props Stan Wright (from Leinster), Olivier Milloud (from Bourgoin), and Francisco Tetaz Chaparro (from Pampas in Argentina). Other arrivals include centre Morgan Turinui (from Dax), back-rower Arthur Chollon (from Union Bordeaux Bègles), American lock Scott La Valla (from Dublin University) and Samoan back Paul Williams (from Sale Sharks).

The Paris club are also said to be in discussion with 26-year-old Aled de Malmanche, the seven-time capped All Blacks hooker who currently plays for Super 15 side Waikato Chiefs, while former Clermont and Argentina international Mario Ledesma is their new forwards coach and Christophe Laussucq (ex-Brive) their new backs coach.

But their arrivals were overshadowed by the decision to release Haskell and Laporte’s public fight to hold on to Bastareaud.

Haskell has enjoyed two excellent seasons with Stade but has apparently fallen victim to the club’s new financial constraints, with his agent father Jon claiming his son’s release was handled in “a typically Gallic fashion”. He claimed the England flanker was continually told he would be offered a new contract before abruptly being informed he was no longer wanted.

Haskell’s future destination remains unclear, with big-spending Toulon being one of many clubs worldwide interested in seeking his services.

Other big name departures include fly-half Lionel Beauxis (to Top 14 champions Stade Toulousain), Argentine back-rower Juan Leguizamon (to Top 14 newcomers Lyon OU), France scrum-half Dupuy (to Perpignan - possibly) and Haskell’s Paris flatmate Ollie Phillips. The former England sevens captain is currently weighing up his options, with another French club being his preferred destination. Brive, who recently signed fly-half Shane Geraghty from Northampton Saints, have been in contact, but no deal has yet been announced.

Scottish full-back Hugo Southwell is also leaving, along with Italian flanker Mauro Bergamasco and South African scrum-half Noel Oelschig.

Bastareaud, who has rarely been far from controversy since bursting on the scene a couple of season ago, is likely to join them in the exit lane after another week in which he has been the subject of much media attention as Toulon and Stade Francais fought for his services. The hulking centre still has two years left on his current contract with Stade, but has long been tipped to join Toulon this summer after falling out with Cheika. He even sported a Toulon sock during his recent appearance for the Barbarians, and went public this week about his desire to play under Philippe Saint-Andre at the Cote d’Azur club.


“My decision [to leave] is deliberate,” said Bastareaud. “I have reached the end of the cycle at Stade Francais and I want to go to Toulon. I dream to evolve alongside all the great players that make up the Toulon squad,” he added.

That prompted an angry response from Laporte who said he would never agree to releasing Bastareaud from his contract, which in turn sparked a feisty response from Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal.

“I think that psychologically Mathieu Bastareaud is no longer able to play for Stade Francais,” Boudjellal tactfully told Le Monde. “He is a young player who now suffers from depression,” he added of the 22-year-old.

Aside from Bastareaud, Toulon this week confirmed that former Australian rugby league international Luke Rooney has agreed to return to the club he left just one season ago (for the Melbourne Rebels) after failing to make Australia’s World Cup squad. Another former Toulon favourite rumoured to be considering a return is ex-All Blacks captain Tana Umaga who could be brought back in a specialist coaching role. Umaga has already enjoyed one spell as player-coach at Toulon, although expectation of his suggested return was dampened somewhat after the club confirmed that former Gloucester and France hooker Olivier Azam will be their new forwards coach, following the recent sacking of Aubin Hueber.

Elsewhere during another frenetic week of transfer activity Top 14 newcomers Lyon OU have confirmed the capture of Springbok scrum-half Ricky Janaurie on a two-year contract. The 49-times capped international is Lyon’s 12th new signing since they confirmed their promotion after winning the ProD2 title, with Wasps’ Mark Van Gisbergen and Biarritz’s Laurent Trainier also among their new recruits. Lyon had previously confirmed that Argentine international Leguizamon had signed from Stade Francais.

Fellow promotees Union Bordeaux-Bègles – who won the proD2 play-off – have also been active on the recruitment front, announcing the signings of Montpellier hooker Fabien Rofes and Toulon winger Thierry Brana.

Racing-Métro 92, who were beaten in the Top 14 semi-finals by Montpellier, have announced they plan to relocate two home league games to the Stade de France next season. The upwardly mobile Paris side, who have usurped Stade Francais as the capital’s big-hitters, successfully hosted Stade Toulousain at the national stadium last season and will do so again in the 2011/12 campaign. They will also play their Paris derby against Stade Francais at the same venue.

Pierre Berbizier’s side have, meanwhile, announced six new players for next season with centre Guillaume Boussés arriving from Stade Francais, hooker Thomas Bianchin from Grenoble, France centre Fabrice Estebanez from Brive, scrum-half Sebastian Descons from Pau, as well as Bourgoin pair Alexandre Dumoulin and Gaetan Germain. Furthermore they have ratified a new deal for late-season arrival Josh Matavesi, while Fabrice Culine, Carlo Festuccia, Jerome Fillol, Andrea Masi, Simon Raiwalui and English full-back Dan Scarbrough are all leaving. Fillol is crossing to Stade Francais and Masi – voted RBS Player of the Tournament in 2010 – is heading back to Italy to play for Aironi.

Clermont Auvergne have signed South African centre Riaan Swanepoel on a a short-term contract as cover during the forthcoming World Cup. The 25-year-old, who currently plays for Natal Sharks, will be a Clermont player between July 11th and October 30th.

New Sharks signing Frédéric Michalak, meanwhile, has claimed he was driven to the brink of a breakdown after constant criticism from his former club Stade Toulousain “It’s easy to build trust or destroy a player by telling him that he is zero. I am so sickened that I was hospitalized for three days. They drove me nuts,” he told L’Equipe.

Top 14 runners-up Montpellier – who lost to Stade Toulousain in last weekend’s final – are close to signing Western province back Paul Bosch, 26,, but have denied the rumoured arrival of All Black Ma’a Nonu.


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