“They are the Real Madrid of rugby.”
Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal, the flamboyant millionaire comic book publisher, has continued to splurge on the world’s best rugby players.
After welcoming, among others, 58-Test Wallaby Quade Cooper, Irish captain Paul O’Connell (115 caps) and the Springboks duo of Bryan Habana (117) and Duane Vermeulen (35) to Toulon following the Rugby World Cup, Boudjellal this week presented yet another superstar, New Zealand’s Ma’a Nonu.
On arriving at the club, the two-time World Cup-winning centre, who has 103 international caps, paid tribute to Toulon’s winning culture.
Nonu said he was relishing the challenge of being part of the team that everyone wants to beat.Nonu said
“I guess it comes with the success of this club. I guess everyone wants to beat Toulon,” .
“The purpose for this club is to win again. I’m here to try my best for this club and I want to achieve things here as well.”
With an embarrassment of riches to choose from, Toulon coach Bernard Laporte, who led France to the 2003 and 2007 World Cups, now faces the dilemma of who to leave out of his squad.
And to show just how strong their squad is, we’ve put together a first and second XV with stars littered throughout both teams.
The first XV backline is ridiculous, with France legend Frederic Michalak feeding Wallabies playmaking duo Cooper and Matt Giteau.
Nonu is shunted to outside centre, with Habana — the World Cup’s equal all-time leading tryscorer with Jonah Lomu — and Wallaby Drew Mitchell (No 3 on that list) on the wings.
Leigh Halfpenny, Wales’ goalkicking star who missed the World Cup through injury, is at fullback.
The great Crusaders and Leinster sides of the 2000s would certainly challenge Toulon for the title, as would the great Auckland and Blues teams of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
But after three consecutive European Champions Cup crowns and with more than 1000 international caps of experience, the French club makes a compelling case for being the greatest — on paper at least.
Writing for Sky Sports in May, former England fly half Stuart Barnes said: “they are the finest team that two decades of European club competition has produced. The facts don’t so much speak for themselves as scream. Three successive titles is an astonishing effort.”
Toulon currently sit fourth in France’s Top 14 competition and were comprehensively beaten in their opening European fixture by English club Wasps at the weekend.
But the club’s slow start to the season can partly be attributed to the absence of their international brigade.
Nonu, like Giteau and Mitchell, had been given time off following the World Cup, while Springboks Habana and Vermeulen have only recently returned.
O’Connor is also a chance of lining up for his first match of the season after requiring surgery following his unhappy season with the Queensland Reds.
Earlier this month, Boudjellal promised to walk away from Toulon if the club failed to make the playoffs.
“I’m responsible. I managed the World Cup period badly. We didn’t know which players were leaving and there weren’t many players available for two or three months,” he said.
“I misjudged this period. And if because of that, we don’t finish in the top six at the end of the season, there’s no reason for me to stay at RCT [Toulon].
“I’ll assume my responsibility, it will mean that I’ve become a trumpet and that I’m more harmful than anything else for the club.”
“But I don’t see any reason why we won’t be in the six, you will have to put up with me a little longer.”