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Top 14 club-by-club 2020/21 season preview: Toulon

By James Harrington

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Toulon have finally emerged from the revolving-door-in-the-coach’s-office madness of the immediate post-Bernard Laporte era. The club is in stable situation, and looking to a new, very different, but no less intimidating future.

Key signing

Thomas Jolmes. La Rochelle’s wantaway international-standard lock finally got his wish at the end of a season in which he had made just two starts, and was effectively absent for most of the season. He teams up again with former boss Patrice Collazo, who is entering his third season at Toulon.

Key departure

Julian Savea. If he’s being honest, or even just feeling blunt, Savea is probably not too disappointed to have returned to New Zealand and the Hurricanes – it’s to his immense credit that he stuck it out at Toulon and worked his way into Collazo’s thinking at all after a dismal start.

They say

“It’s great to work with so much stability in the group. To have only three recruits is a luxury. You don’t have to rethink the group dynamics when a third of the workforce has to soak up the game plan.” (Club president Bernard LeMaitre, Rugbyrama)

We say

Stability is not a word that has been easily linked with Toulon in recent years. But those years are done. Mourad Boudjellal – the comic-book baddie of the Top 14 – has gone, replaced by the more measured Bernard LeMaitre, who has wasted no time laying down his mark.

Toulon contract extensions

He must be doing something right. Shortly after pre-season started in earnest, Toulon announced head coach Collazo and recently arrived new-model Galatico signing Eben Etzebeth had both signed long contract extensions. The coach is at Mayol until at least 2025, and the Springbok World Cup winner is staying until the end of the 2023/24 season, after the World Cup.

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While Collazo’s first season in charge was something of a nightmare – there was, for a while, talk of relegation – his second was a big improvement. When the campaign shuddered to an early halt, Toulon were solidly fourth in the French championship, and into the Challenge Cup quarter-finals with a perfect six-from-six in the pool stage.

Accent on youth

One of LeMaitre’s preconditions for investing in the club was developing a new training centre at Berg and a stronger focus on harnessing and developing homegrown talent. This is, too, where big name signings such as Etzebeth come in. Part of his role is to support and help academy players at the centre.

The centre is now open for business. And Toulon are back.

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Jim Hamilton picks his 2021 Lions team
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Jim Hamilton picks his 2021 Lions team

Just look at their signings this season. Despite Etzebeth, they’re no longer big importers of rugby stars – though there are several still on the books.

This iteration of Toulon places greater emphasis on youth development (there’s a reason the signing of Harrison Obatoyinbo, from Ealing, hit the headlines) so expect to see more Anthony Belleaus and Louis Carbonels, Yoann Cottins – away on loan this season – and William Beaudons down the line.

More immediately, Toulon are contenders again, Larry.

Arrivals

Jeremy Boyadjis; Thomas Jolmes; Isaia Toeava

Departures

Marcel van der Merwe; Mamuka Gorgodze; Corentin Vernet; Liam Messam; Stephane Onambele; Yoan Cottin (loan); Mathieu Smaili; Julian Savea; Hugo Bonneval

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TOP 14    

Top 14 club-by-club 2020/21 season preview: Toulon

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