French profit from Sanzar exodus

More than a score of players based in South Africa and Australasia have signed with Top 14 French clubs ahead of the 2008/09 European season.

Big spenders Toulon top the list having attracted eight new signings from South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. Joe van Niekerk (Lions, Springboks), Francois van der Merwe (Stormers), Ross Skeate (Stormers) and Tiaan Liebenberg (Stormers, Springboks) all hail from South Africa while Jerry Collins (Hurricanes, All Blacks) and Ben Castle (Chiefs) have been imported from New Zealand. Matt Henjak (Western Force, Wallabies) and Aussie league player Luke Rooney make up the rest of the Toulon contingent from Down Under.

Bourgoin and Stade Francais have two new acquisitions apiece while every other club has one bar Top 14 winners Toulouse. However, Toulouse already have players such as Shaun Sowerby and Byron Kellerher on their books.

Once described as the answer to the Wallabies’ scrumming woes, Reds prop Rodney Blake has found a new home at Bayonne. Fellow Queenslander Ben Coutts is also a new addition to the Top 14 with Mont de Marsan.

Other promising players who have opted for the European experience include Lachlan McKay (Force) and Campbell Johnstone (Crusaders).

The lowly Valke even have a representative in the French melting pot with fullback Jacques Schutte joining Montpellier.

By Jon Cardinelli