The current predicament that French Rugby Club Toulon find themselves in is not entirely the fault of newly displaced coach and All Black legend Tana Umaga.
A quick look on their website will reveal the following players on their current playing staff who struggled to find first team play in New Zealand and when they did, hardly look like world beaters.
Tusi Pisi-Excuse me?
Orene Ai’i – handy sevens player and once scored a cracking try for Auckland against Canterbury.
Ben Castle – Um?
Saimone Taumoepeau – well, he was an All Black but then so was Ben Franks last year.
Sinoti To’omaga – A Wellington club player. Enough said.
Jerry Collins – OK, you got me there.
Sonny Bill Williams – Played 5 games. Scored one try. Would have been a World Champion if he had stayed with league. Whoops!
And that’s just the Kiwis! Of the rest, South African Joe Van Niekirk was a reasonably good player and Australian Matt Henjak has a nice haircut and was famously dismissed by the Western Force, but the problems at Toulon clearly lie with the owner. I’m sorry Monsieur Boudjellal but life isn’t like it is in the comic books, you can’t go out and buy yourself a winning team or a winning culture.
Yes sure, the likes of Gregan, Mehrtens, Matfield and Oliver helped to get Toulon promoted to the Top 14 but none of them are there now, and I seriously doubt that the appointment of Phillippe Saint-Andre as Sporting Director will drastically change things at the club with the cosmopolitan mix of Kiwis, Australians, South Africans, Georgians, Italians, Argentineans, Pacific Islanders and even a few Frenchmen on offer.
Saint-Andre and Umaga can only work with the players they have. Sure Boudjellal will give them funds to secure the services of some better players to bolster the squad, but the situation remains that there simply aren’t enough good players out there in the player pool to satisfy the needs of the club owners.
This point was clearly driven home today when it was announced that Tana Umaga would be remaining at the club as manager and at the grand old age of 35 would be lacing his boots up again.
Always on a hiding to nothing at Toulon, Umaga took the job with little or no coaching experience and it became apparent early on that Boudjellal had hired him purely because he was Tana Umaga, All Black and not because of his coaching CV.
Now Saint-Andre is coming in over the top of him and expecting him to run around in the tough week-in, week-out slog that is the French Championship.
Tana’s last competitive match was in May 2007 when he played for the Hurricanes (Incidentally, can you use the word “competitive” and Hurricanes in the same sentence?) and he looked very jaded then. How is he going to look after 26 rounds in the French First Division in a rugged season that runs from August to June?
I’m sure money came into the final decision for Umaga, IE “You can stay but you have to play” and after his four years in France I’m sure he will be financially secure, but as a rule we sports fans know that comebacks don’t generally work. I can’t see this one being any different.
– Alister Cain