Toulon chief cuts players' holidays, Racing crash

by AFP

Toulon president Mourad Boudjellal was so angry at seeing his superstars slump to a 23-20 home loss to La Rochelle in the Top 14 on Saturday that he immediately cancelled their vacation.

Boudjellal, the controversial comic book king who has bankrolled Toulon to three European titles, demanded his players be banned from taking holidays during the forthcoming three-week Six Nations break.

However, after discussions with English coach Mike Ford, it was agreed that the squad would be back at work from February 5, a full 13 days before their next Top 14 clash against Lyon.

"I have spoken to Mourad. We will have a week of rest until February 5," said Ford.

"But the players have to ask themselves if they were ready for the battle, for the war."

It's understood that the players were already due to return to duty on February 8 but even that was too generous for Boudjellal in the immediate aftermath of a defeat which left fifth-placed Toulon 12 points off La Rochelle, the new league leaders.

"I was almost expecting to lose this game," he said. "Holidays are cancelled. I don't care about airline tickets or anything like that, it's their problem." - Mourad Boudjellal.

Adding further to Toulon's woes was the suspected injury of Matt Giteau. The 34 year-old is believed to have injured the same ankle that he broke in Australia's 42-8 thrashing by New Zealand in August last year. Earlier in the week Mourad Boudjellal confirmed that Giteau would switch Toulon for the Japanese League for season 2017-2018.

Toulon are awaiting on the extent of Giteau's injury. Photo: AFP.Toulon, however, weren't the only French giants cut down to size on Saturday as defending champions Racing 92 gave up a 19-13 half-time lead to lose 37-25 to Lyon.

Adding to Racing's problems was the sight of All Blacks star Dan Carter limping off in the 32nd minute with what appeared to be a groin injury.

Lyon scored three of their tries in the second period when lock Leone Nakarawa and winger Teddy Thomas were yellow-carded.

English No8 Carl Fearns and Australian winger Toby Arnold finished with two scores each while evergreen Freddie Michalak kicked 17 points.

Defeat left Racing in 10th place, six points off the play-offs while Lyon moved 10 points clear of relegation.

On the pitch at Toulon's Stade Mayol, a last-gasp penalty from Australian fly-half Brock James ensured La Rochelle kept up their unlikely title tilt.

La Rochelle, a solitary point behind Clermont going into the weekend, moved three points clear as they made it four straight wins.

James may have bagged the plaudits for holding his nerve with his 35-metre kick, the last action of the contest, but it was a pair of tries from Vincent Rattez that underpinned the triumph.

Zack Holmes and then fellow Aussie James converted and added a penalty each before the latter's final coup de grace.

"It's a great result for us. We gave everything out there and that was the key," Rattez told Canal+ Sport.

Australian Brock James secured a vital penalty goal for La Rochelle. Photo: AFP.Sixth-placed Toulouse failed to capitalise on Toulon's defeat, suffering a shock 20-10 loss to Pau who have now won four matches in succession.

Hooker Thomas Bianchin and centre Julien Fumat scored Pau's tries in the first 25 minutes against a Toulouse team sorely missing first-choice centres Gael Fickou and Yann David as well as fly-half Jean-Marc Doussain who are away on Six Nations duty.

Castres moved into fourth spot with a 38-25 win over Montpellier, the team above them in third.

Castres ran in four tries through highly-regarded scrum-half Antoine Dupont, winger David Smith, replacement scrum-half Rory Kockott and loose forward Yannick Caballero as Montpellier suffered a fifth loss in their last six away games.

Second-bottom Grenoble boosted their survival hopes with a bonus-point 44-22 win over struggling Stade Francais who are fourth bottom.

Hooker Arnaud Heguy, centres Fabrice Estebanez and Chris Farrell and winger Xavier Mignot grabbed Grenoble's tries with Jonathan Wisniewski kicking 24

Clermont will look to reclaim top spot Sunday when they travel to Bordeaux.

But they will be missing seven Six Nations players as well as star centre Wesley Fofana who ruptured his Achilles tendon in the European Cup last weekend.