It was last January when maverick Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal floated the notion about a new position for Mathieu Bastareaud. “My thinking today is: is it a 12? I think it could be the best French No8,” he pondered.
Six months later, that repositioning is about to happen thanks to the veteran midfielder’s omission from the France squad for the World Cup in Japan.
Jacques Brunel’s axe created the vacuum that will see Bastareaud pitch up at Lyon on a short-term deal as a Top 14 joker before he heads across the Atlantic for his planned taste of the Big Apple and the 2020 Major League Rugby season in New York.
Before he lands in America, though, his positional switch will be one of the most talked-about topics in the early months of the new Top 14 season. His switch from backs-to-forwards sounds unusual, but he is by no means a pioneer judging by a list produced by the French sports daily, L’Equipe.
Patrice Collazo, the Toulon boss whom Bastareaud is set to return to work under for the 2020/21 season, has a form for this backs-to-forwards switch. While at La Rochelle he was involved in repositioning Fijian centre Levani Botia to blindside flanker.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) July 18, 2019
The Fijian’s performances in his revised role didn’t disappoint, but the experiment ended after Collazo’s departure as the player wanted to return to his favourite position in the midfield.
Botia wasn’t Collazo’s only experiment, but he was his most ambitious. Jeremy Sinzelle, La Rochelle’s usual wing or full-back, was given a decent run at out-half, while scrum-half Arthur Retière has been moulded into a back three player in recent seasons.
— Gaël Berger (@GaelBerger) July 17, 2019
Backline versatility is not uncommon, admittedly. Look at how Clermont’s two most recognisable midfielders, Aurélien Rougerie and Wesley Fofana, were wingers long before they stamped their authority at centre, with Damian Penaud moving in the opposition direction, from midfield to wing.
There are many similar movements, but it’s another Fijian who provides the second example of a recent Bastareaud-like switch. When Semi Kunatani arrived at Toulouse in 2015, the French club started him on the wing.
However, they repositioned him in the back row after two seasons and it is the flanker role he has continued to fill since his move last summer to Harlequins in England.
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