Top 14 side Clermont are planning a raid on Japan’s Top League to bolster their injury-ravaged three-quarter line, according to reports.
They have their eyes on Panasonic Wild Knights’ Australian Digby Ioane (32) and two stars from Toshiba Brave Lupus – 53-cap 2011 World Cup-winner Cory Jane (34) and 17-cap All Black Richard Kahui (32) – French rugby media have said.
The desperate Japanese recruitment drive comes after veteran centre Aurelien Rougerie and winger David Strettle – as well as stalwart hooker Benjamin Kayser – were injured in Clermont’s first home defeat of the season against Castres at the weekend.
They join prop Loni Uhila; lock Sitaleki Timani; flankers Camille Gérondeau and Judicaël Cancoriet; scrum halves Greig Laidlaw and Charlie Cassang; fly-halves Camille Lopez, Patricio Fernandez and Luke McAlister; wings Alivereti Raka and Noa Nakaitaci; and centres Damian Penaud, Remi Lamerat and Wesley Fofana on an injury list that is longer than the club’s Sunday name of Association Sportive Montferrandaise Clermont Auvergne.
With player stocks already badly depleted, the latest injuries could not have come at a worse time for Clermont. As reported, Rougerie will be out for a month with a knee injury. Strettle (ligament strain) and Kayser (concussion) will also miss the weekend’s Top 14 trip to Racing 92’s U Arena for the last round of domestic league action before the fifth and sixth rounds of the Champions Cup kick off.
Clermont are top of Pool Two in Europe, with four wins from four, including back-to-back victories over Saracens. But quarter-final qualification is still not guaranteed. A win at Northampton or at home against Ospreys would be sufficient, but that queue of players outside the physio’s room will be a concern for coach Franck Azema.
In a rare slice of good news, another prop Davit Zirakashvili returned to action off the bench for the first time since November 6 against Castres.
Of the potential new recruits from Japan, only Ioane has experience of the French domestic competition. He arrived at Stade Francais in 2013, after a successful run with Queensland Reds and the Wallabies. According to reports, he struggled with the change in culture and language. Rumour has it he sounded out then-Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie about an early return to Australia before the end of the first season of his two-year contract.
In the end, he stuck out the full term of his deal – scoring five times in 25 matches – before moving to Honda Heat in Japan, where he played 22 times before switching to Panasonic Wild Knights.
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