Top 14: Toulouse sign Burgess; Salary cap up to €8.7m; Stade Francais turn to super Mario
22 March 2011
Super Mario: Argentine hooker
Ledesma will join Stade Francais
Photo: Eoin Mundow/Cleva Media
Stade Toulousain are close to tying up the deal to sign Australian scrum-half Luke Burgess.
The 27-year-old international currently plays for the Waratahs and would be an ideal replacement for Byron Kelleher, who has signed a pre-contract agreement with Bayonne.
Burgess has made 15 appearances for the Wallabies after serving a long apprenticeship at club and international level under George Gregan, having begun his club career with the Brumbies.
He made his Australian debut in 2008 but was forced to sit out the Tri-Nations later that year due to a knee injury, although he did rejoin the Wallabies for their Spring Tour.
Toulouse already have Argentine international Nicolas Vergallo on their books, while Frédéric Michalak can also play at No 9 - although the latter has yet to agree a new deal with his home-town club.
Top 14 Transfers for 2011/12
Elsewhere, Stade Francais have confirmed that forwards coach Didier Faugeron will be leaving the club at the end of the current campaign. Faugeron will be replaced by Clermont Auvergne's Argentine hooker Mario Ledesma, with the veteran international retiring from playing to take up his new role.
La Rochelle have announced three contract extensions with flanker Nicolas Djebaili (two years), hooker Kevin Le Guen (three years) and Argentine Franco Pani (two years) all penning new deals.
Top 14 League Table 2010/11
The LNR has formally agreed that next season's salary cap will be €8.7m, up €600,000 on this season's figure.
The LNR steering committee has additionally announced that this season's ProD2 play-off semi-finals will take place on May 14 and 15, with the final due to take place on May 22.
It also said that Top 14 friendlies for next season can be organized from July 1st onwards.
Finally, in the aftermath of France's disappointing RBS Six Nations there has been plenty of speculation as to who will make up the 30-strong squad for the World Cup starting in September. Head coach Marc Lièvremont has used 91 different players during his three years in charge, but admitted after their recent Italian defeat that he is back to square one.
Victory against Wales eased some of the pain of that shock loss, but the make-up of his squad still leaves plenty of room for speculation.
L'Equipe this week gave its own thoughts, with few surprises in choice of forwards - unless the inclusion of Sébastien Chabal and Louis Picamoles raised eyebrows. However, in the back division it may have given Lièvremont food for thought by promoting the causes of Mathieu Bastareaud - overlooked for the November internationals and the Six Nations - as well as Lionel Beauxis (as reserve fly-half ahead of David Skrela), Julien Malzieu (on the wing ahead of Yoann Huget) and Florian Fritz (in the centres, with Aurélien Rougerie moved out wide).
It is, of course, pure speculation at this point, but Chabal was also given backing this week by his Racing-Métro coach Pierre Berbizier. Chabal was one of six players dropped from Lièvremont's squad following the Rome loss, but Berbizier tipped "Seabass" to bounce back.
"If I remember correctly nobody saw Chabal as a number eight, and then he became number eight and now he is a pariah from the French team. For us he remains the same at club level. We will continue to use him as we always have [at No 8], and I hope that he will return to his best form," said Berbizier.
England's battered Grand Slam hopes, meanwhile, have prompted some re-evaluation across 'Le Channel' too. While most agree that it was inexperience which cost Martin Johnson's men their date with glory, others have suggested some tinkering.
Former captain Martin Corry believes Jonny Wilkinson should make the starting XV in New Zealand, but as inside centre rather than at fly-half, where he still backs Toby Flood.
He reckons Wilkinson's passing and creative ability surpasses that of Shontayne Hape and would enhance England's back-line potency. "We need someone with good distribution skills at 12. If it's not [Riki] Flutey they've got to start looking elsewhere. I'd like to see Wilkinson given a go there. It's the least risky option as he's played there before," reasoned Corry.
"I know in the past it's been Wilkinson at 10 and Flood at 12, but I'd like to see that reversed. We haven't got to make wholesale changes but I think there are tactical issues. We saw in the Scottish game that when the opposition slowed down England's ball they didn't have the answer. If Flood wants to get the ball wide when there's a packed midfield defence he has to hurl it wide himself because he can't rely on his centres to do it," he added.