Top 14: Bayonne sign Tialata, Lauaki and Chisholm; Haskell plays the waiting game
18 May 2011
Bayonne bound: Neemia Tialata
Photo: Eoin Mundow/Cleva Media
Bayonne have underlined their ambitions for next season by signing All Blacks Sione Lauaki and Neemia Tialata, as well as Wallaby lock Mark Chisholm.
The Basques narrowly missed out on the Top 14 play-offs this season after finishing seventh, but they have moved quickly to bolster their squad. France international Cédric Heymans has already joined from Stade Toulousain, and now they have added the New Zealand pair of Lauaki and Tialata, as well as Australian international Chisholm.
Top 14 Transfers for 2011/12
Number eight Lauaki, 29, played for the All Blacks in the 2007 World Cup and arrives on a three-year contract from Clermont Auvergne, where he has enjoyed an excellent maiden season in French club rugby, while Tialata has been signed from The Hurricanes.
Prop Tialata, 28, has agreed a two-year deal and is likely to be involved with New Zealand at the World Cup.
“I thought long and hard before signing for Bayonne, but in the end the rugby challenge it represents, together with the cultural experience and the opportunity of security for my extended family resulted in me favouring the French offer,” said Tialata.
He added that it had been a privilege to play for the All Blacks – for whom he has 43 caps - and that he hoped to force his way into their squad for the Tri Nations and World Cup before departing for France.
“There could be a chance of 50 games for the All Blacks, which is a real goal of mine,” he said.
Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett said he would sad to Tialata leave but added that it was “a great opportunity for him”.
NZRU general manager Neil Sorensen was also fulsome in his praise describing the prop as “the cornerstone of every side he has played in and has been an outstanding servant of the game here in New Zealand.”
Lauaki, who has 17 international caps, said of his move: “I’m a competitor, Bayonne are an ambitious club, I want to help them continue to evolve.”
Australian Chisholm, 29, has 13 international caps and is another player likely to feature at the World Cup. He arrives from the Brumbies on a two-year deal with the option of a further 12 months.
Bayonne manager Christian Gajan confirmed all three signings this week, but said the Basques would not be following up on previous interest in Stade Toulousain pair Byron Kelleher and Frederic Michalak. The latter is wanted by South African franchise The Stormers, while Kelleher has been tipped to join Stade Francais.
Toulon signing Steffon Armitage is due to undergo a medical with the French club today (Wednesday) after finally being allowed to leave London Irish. The 25-year-old flanker, who has five England caps, has also been surprisingly called up to join the England sevens squad this weekend’s tournament at Twickenham.
Armitage has been brought in as a replacement for the injured Greg Barden.
“He brings a lot of international experience and he has a world-class ability to stay on his feet, win turnovers and dominate the breakdown,” said sevens coach Ben Ryan.
Toulon have also confirmed yet another signing with La Rochelle prop Romain Frou, 27, agreeing a two-year deal.
Elsewhere in the transfer market Stade Francais and England flanker James Haskell has admitted he is mulling over an offer to play in Super 15 next season. The in-demand international could yet stay in Paris, but it seems that would depend on Stade winning their weekend Amlin Challenge Cup final against Harlequins – and thus qualifying for next season’s Heineken Cup – and also on confirmation that the club’s finances are improved by a large injection of cash from a prospective Canadian consortium.
“My long-term future has to be back in England but it’s a bit of a tricky situation at the moment with the Stade Francais uncertainty as well as it being a World Cup campaign next season,” he said.
Relegated La Rochelle, meanwhile, have signed Samoan international Alfie To’oala on a two-year deal from relegated Aviva Premiership side Leeds Carnegie. The 30-year-old back-rower is the latest player to leave Leeds following confirmation of their relegation, following the likes of head coach Neil Back, former Brive hooker Steve Thompson and lock James Craig.
ProD2 play-off finalists Union Bordeaux-Bègles have also confirmed that New Zealand-born centre Leroy Houston, 24, has signed from Queensland Reds, while Mont-de-Marsan have signed Scottish flanker William Newlands, 26, from Edinburgh.
In other news, Racing-Métro star Sébastien Chabal will have his appeal against a 60-day ban heard next week. Chabal is hoping that the heavy sentence may be reduced in time to allow him take part in the Top 14 play-offs, with Racing-Métro due to face Montpellier in Marseille in one of the two semi-finals scheduled for next weekend.
Racing president Jacky Lorenzetti, who is backing Chabal’s appeal, described the French international and “a good guy, a good man”, and said the player had been “trapped” by the newspaper which published the article which got him in hot water for criticising Top 14 referees.