By Gavin Mortimer
Bryan Habana hasn’t enjoyed the best of starts at Toulon. Despite making his debut – all 11 minutes of it – against Grenoble in August, the South African winger has made just two more league appearances, what with Springbok commitments and a hamstring strain. Then last weekend, on his Heineken Cup debut, he limped off against Exeter and won’t be seen until February at the earliest as he recovers from a thigh operation. Four outings, no tries and a monthly wage of €50,000. Mourad Boudjellal must be delighted…
Fortunately Habana signed a three-year deal so the 30-year-old still has plenty of time to turn things around at Toulon and avoid joining this list of top ten French flops.
Simon Mason, Ulster to Stade Francais, 2000
The hero of Ulster’s 1999 Heineken Cup victory, Mason signed a three-year deal with Stade Francais at the start of the 2000-2001 season. The Ireland full-back arrived in Paris hoping to reignite his Test career but made only seven starts before leaving for Italian side Treviso. “I was promised this and that but it just didn’t work,” he complained.
Daniel Herbert, Queensland to Perpignan, 2003
After 67 Tests for Australia, Herbert embarked for the Top 14 eager to taste the French way of life. But a serious neck injury ruined the centre’s plans and a season into his three year deal he’d managed just seven appearances. The club president at the time wasn’t too happy and refused to pay Herbert his wages. He sued for breach of contract and though he ultimately won, “it took me two and a half years to get a decision”.
Tim Stimpson, Leicester to Perpignan, 2003
A star at Leicester, the England and Lions full-back joined Perpignan in November 2003 after kicking a record 1,2020 Premiership points for the Tigers. At USAP Stimpson kicked only his heels as injury and a loss of form resulted in his playing for their Under-23 side. A move to Leeds followed in 2004 – after a lengthy legal battle with Perpignan – and Stimpson was left to reflect on his choice: “I can now speak French…but beyond that it was a waste of time.”
Arwel Thomas, Swansea to Pau 2003
The Wales fly-half left Swansea for Pau in 2003 but was soon wishing he hadn’t. The rugby wasn’t all it was cracked up to be and worse, people spoke French. “It was a pain,” grumbled Thomas, who signed for Llanelli after lasting a season in France. “I was going to the club office and they were trying to explain to me in their dodgy English things like setting up a bank account.”
Percy Montgomery, Stormers to Perpignan, 2007
The Springboks’ blond bombshell arrived in the south of France to set hearts all aflutter but there was little excitement in the season that followed. A knee injury sidelined South Africa’s record points-scorer for several weeks and in the 14 matches he played, Montgomery managed just 95 points. Signed on a two-year deal both parties agreed it would be for the best if the contract was terminated halfway through.
Dan Carter, Crusaders to Perpignan 2008
A fanfare greeted the news that All Black fly-half Dan Carter had signed a six-month deal with Perpignan that would earn him around £615,000 for half a season’s work. Alas the then 26-year-old played just five matches before rupturing his Achilles tendon against Stade Francais. On the plus side Carter scored 45 points in his 361 minutes of French rugby – and Perpignan never lost in that time.
Victor Matfield, Bulls to Toulon 2007
Brought to Toulon for one season on an alleged wage of €500k, the Boks’ second row arrived shortly after helping his country win the ’07 World Cup. He didn’t stick it for long, returning to the Bulls after just 15 appearances with the words of Toulon president Boudjellal ringing in his ears: “He sweated more in the nightclub than he did on the pitch.”
Riki Flutey, Wasps to Brive, 2009
The England centre arrived in Brive shortly after the 2009 Lions tour to South Africa but the form he’d shown in the series against the Boks was never seen in France. A shoulder injury and an inability to settle in Brive meant the threequarter made just five appearances before returning to Wasps the next year.
Gavin Henson, Saracens to Toulon 2011
Having taken an 18-month sabbatical, and starred in Strictly Come Dancing, Henson wound up in Toulon in March 2011 on a five-month contract. He made a try-scoring debut against Stade Francais in April but featured in just one more game before copping a two-week ban by the club following some drunken shenanigans. One more appearance was all Henson managed before being released. “We do not want to blame anyone but, for next season, we hope that team spirit is a priority,” was Boudjellal’s snide explanation.
Gethin Jenkins, Cardiff Blues to Toulon, 2012
The Wales and Lions loosehead swapped the Cardiff Blues for Mediterranean blue in the summer of 2012, but Jenkins made only five starts for Toulon in the Top 14. Instead coach Bernard Laporte preferred Andrew Sheridan and Carl Hayman as his props, and by February 2013 Jenkins confirmed he was returning to Wales for this season.