The second part of our transfer update from France's top flight takes in heavy hitters Toulon, Racing and Montpellier. Here's where players are heading...
The runaway winners of the ProD2, Lyon lost just five of their 30 league matches and finished 31 points clear of second-placed Bayonne. It was a similar story in 2013-14, when they romped to the second division title only to be relegated after one season in the Top 14.
But there have been many changes since then. Former Clermont and Toulon scrum-half Pierre Mignoni replaced Tim Lane as head coach last year, and among the new signings are a gang from Toulon in Fred Michalak, Delon Armitage, Virgile Bruni, Alexandre Menini and Theo Belan.
Maselino Paulino arrives from the Scarlets and other overseas signings include Franco Mostert from the Lions and Mike Harris from Melbourne Rebels. A dozen players have been released, including former Exeter prop Hoani Tui, who joins Oyonnax.
The team they love to hate, Montpellier made few friends last season as their no-frills, forward-based game plan won them the Challenge Cup and took them to the semi-finals of the Top 14.
Head coach Jake White makes no apologies for his pragmatism, nor his reliance on southern hemisphere stars to execute his orders.
There were few enough French players in the Montpellier squad last season as it was but the retirements of Nicolas Mas, Thibaut Privat and Anthony Floch, as well as the move of François Trinh-Duc to Toulon, further dilutes the club’s Gallic flavour.
Having said that, among the new recruits are France centre Alexandre Dumoulin and Oyonnax prop Antoine Guillamon, while from overseas come Ben Botica (Harlequins), Nemani Nadolo (Crusaders), Joe Tomane (Brumbies) and Nico Janse van Rensburg (Bulls).
Pau achieved what they set out to do last season, which was to consolidate and avoid the quick return to the ProD2 that is the fate of so many newly promoted clubs.
No doubt that the signing of Steffon Armitage from Toulon was the biggest domestic transfer coup of the summer, while the arrival of another Toulon star, former All Black threequarter Tom Taylor, is another important capture.
With Ben Mowen, Ibrahim Diarra and Pierrick Gunther signed to beef up the pack, Pau will be no pushover next season, particularly as the great Kiwi prop Carl Hayman has been brought in as forwards coach.
Last season confirmed that Racing 92 have usurped Toulon as the dominant club in France. They lost to Saracens in the final of the Champions Cup but triumphed over Toulon in the Top 14 finale, their first title for 26 years.
Though the move to the new 32,000-capacity stadium has been delayed from January to September 2017, there is still plenty to cheer about for the Racing faithful ahead of the new season.
New arrivals include centre Anthony Tuitavake from Montpellier, and locks Leone Nakarawa from Glasgow and Gerbrandt Grobler from the Stormers. Grobler is approaching the end of a two-year ban following a positive test for the steroid Drostanolone.
And, of course, All Black great Ali Williams has come out of retirement to further shore up the second-row. The influx will go some way in compensating for the departure of Juandre Kruger (Toulon) and Luke Charteris (Bath), while other notable farewells were said by Mike Phillips, who joins Sale, and centre Alexandre Dumoulin, now at Montpellier.
Twelve months ago the Parisians were the toast of France after their surprise Top 14 title, but the men in pink came back down to earth last season, enduring a wretched campaign that saw them finish third from bottom.
Head coach Gonzalo Quesada has refused to panic, however, with perhaps his most significant addition the hiring of former All Black Greg Cooper as backs coach.
The only new player arrival is Alipate Ratini, the Fijian wing who shone for Grenoble two seasons ago before off-field problems derailed his career, while scrum-half Julien Tomas is the only major departure.
There’ll be a degree of trepidation at Toulon ahead of the new season after the defeat to Racing at the Nou Camp brought to an end the Bernard Laporte era. Not only has he stepped down as director of rugby but several big names have moved on, including the Armitage brothers, Fred Michalak, Tom Taylor, Alex Menini and Konstantin Mikautadze.
As one would expect, Toulon president Mourad Boudjellal hasn’t been shy in signing replacements and Liam Gill, Marcel van der Merwe, Ayumu Goromaru and Juandre Kruger are all top-class players. Throw in a trio of experienced French stars in François Trinh-Duc, Vincent Clerc and Pierre Bernard and Toulon seem well-placed for the coming season.
But that was before Boudjellal parted company with Laporte’s successor, Diego Dominguez, at the weekend over alleged disagreements about the make-up of the coaching staff. Fabien Galthié, Stuart Lancaster and Graham Henry are just three of the names in the frame to replace Dominguez, but whoever gets the job has barely a month before the start of the new season. Bonne chance!
It’s now five seasons since Toulouse won either the Champions Cup or the Top 14, their longest period without a major trophy since rugby went pro. It’s no secret the club suffered in the last years of Guy Noves’s 20-year tenure and the man who replaced him, Ugo Mola, has recently started to stamp his own mark on the squad.
Toulouse stalwarts Clémont Poitrenaud, Romain Millo-Chluski and Vincent Clerc, who between them racked up nearly 1,000 appearances for the club, have all been released, severing an important link with the past.
The loss of Louis Picamoles to Northampton is a keen blow for Mola, but that’s offset to a degree by the arrival from Castres of Scotland lock Richie Gray and the signing of All Black prop Charlie Faumuina (though the latter won’t arrive until next year). In addition, Sofiane Guitoune has been signed to replace Clerc on the wing.