By Gavin Mortimer
THE TOP 14 is soon to close down for three weeks allowing clubs to take stock of their early season form. For Racing Metro it’s been nothing short of disastrous. Three consecutive league defeats have left them languishing in eighth spot, 17 points behind leaders Toulon and just six clear of the relegation zone. And with an away trip to Toulouse coming up on Thursday, Racing might as well write off another four points.
Racing have been hindered by misfortune from the start of the season, losing fullback Benjamin Dambielle and fly-half Jonathan Wisniewski to long term injuries in early September. The highly-rated Wisniewski has a herniated disc and will be missing for months, hence the decision last month to bring in Bath’s Olly Barkley as his replacement.
Barkley has started well at Racing but it’s going to take more than just one player to transform the fortunes of the Parisian club. But according to a report in Monday’s Midi Olympique that could soon happen. Under the headline ‘The Dream Team Takes Shape’, France’s rugby newspaper says Racing multi-millionaire owner Jacky Lorenzetti is eyeing up some of the biggest names in the game.
Lorenzetti first bought a stake in Racing six years ago when it was ambling along in Pro2. Initially his policy was one of “signing excellent players and not stars, because we have a habit of saying that with us there is not one individual star, it is the team that counts”. But with Racing struggling to make much of an impact in either the Top or the Heineken Cup it appears Lorenzetti is shooting for stars.
At the top of Lorenzetti’s wishlist are a couple of Welsh aces in Jamie Roberts and Dan Lydiate, the latter’s ankle injury apparently not concerning the Racing president. Roberts in particular is being chased by Lorenzetti and he believes the Cardiff Blues’ salary cap could be the loophole that allows Racing to lure the 25-year-old Wales centre to Paris next season. Toulon have recently dropped out of the race to sign Roberts, instead extending former Wallaby Matt Giteau’s contract for a further two years, but Racing are said to be “still in contact” with the Welshman.
Midi Olympique also claims that Racing have made an “approach” to Northampton’s giant prop Soane Tonga’uiha in recent weeks who it says is out of contract with the Saints at the end of the season. The 30-year Tongan has been at Franklin’s Gardens since 2006 but Lorenzetti wants to bring him across the Channel, as he does Martin Castrogiovanni, Leicester’s Italian prop. Stories first surfaced in the French press two weeks ago linking Castrogiovanni to Racing with rumours suggesting Lorenzetti has been a fan of the tight-head for a while. In 2011 Castrogiovanni turned down a move to France in favour of remaining at Welford Road, declaring at the time that “money isn’t everything”.
The other big name mentioned by Midi Olympique is former All Black second-row Jason Eaton. The 6ft 7in Hurricanes star won 15 caps for New Zealand between 2005 and 2009 before a serious knee injury sidelined him for much of 2010. Back to his best with the Hurricanes this year, Eaton is allegedly now “seriously considering continuing his career overseas”.
For the moment the Dream Team remains just that but Lorenzetti – who made his fortune through property – is a man who normally gets what he wants. British clubs can only hope and pray that Racing’s dream doesn’t become their nightmare.