With Bernard Laporte vacating the role that brought Toulon three European Cups, his successor appears to be Diego Dominguez, but all is not running smoothly
There’s rarely a dull day at Toulon, even during the off-season, and this summer a bumper crop of colourful stories has emanated from the Cote d’Azur.
At the end of last month it looked as if the club would creep quietly off for its holidays, in need of some rest and recuperation after losing to Racing 92 in the Top 14 final and so finishing a season without a trophy for the first time since 2012.
That final brought down the curtain on Bernard Laporte‘s five-year stint as coach, a reign during which Toulon won an unprecedented three consecutive European titles and their first Top 14 crown in 22 years. As the players packed their beach towels and stocked up on sun cream they must have assumed there would no need to keep in touch with events at the club. After all, they knew that Diego Dominguez had been shadowing Laporte since the start of the year and was primed to take over as director of rugby.
But within a fortnight storm clouds swept in over Toulon. Initial reports alleged that Dominguez had walked out on the club after a disagreement with president Mourad Boudjellal about his decision to bring on board Marc Dal Maso as forwards coach. The former France hooker was a vital component of Eddie Jones‘ coaching team with Japan during last year’s World Cup with a reputation as an astute analyser of the game. Dal Maso was hired not to replace Jacques Delmas but to work alongside him with Steve Meehan the third member of Dominguez’s coaching team. However, according to the French press, Dominguez felt undermined by Boudjellal’s decision to bring in Dal Maso.
That prompted feverish expectation in the press about who would replace the Argentine with the usual suspects – Graham Henry, Heyneke Meyer, Mike Ford, Stuart Lancaster and Fabien Galthié – all touted as possible successors. But reports of Dominguez’s demise proved premature and it was soon announced that he would, after all, be leading the coaching team for the 2016-17 season.
But still the drama wasn’t over. For no sooner had Dominguez been confirmed in his job than last Thursday the WRU announced it was blocking Shaun Edwards‘ part-time job with Toulon, saying in a statement that it would be “an unacceptable compromise” to his Wales duties as defence coach.
Given all the turmoil it was no surprise to find Boudjellal in combative mood in an interview in Monday’s edition of Midi Olympique. Revealing that he had first tried to hire Dal Maso as a coach in 2008, the Toulon president was asked about Dominguez’s opposition to the appointment: “From the moment where I made a decision, the people who work [for me] should accept it. Dominguez has therefore two options: either he works with Dal Maso or…he leaves.”
Intriguingly, Midi Olympique claimed that Boudjellal met Lancaster in Paris last Thursday and discussions between the pair went well. For the moment, says the paper, “Boudjellal has not followed up. He’s waiting to see how the Argentine behaves.”
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There was also an air of anticipation among the 1000 supporters present on Tuesday for the official launch of Toulon’s pre-season training. Dominguez, Dal Maso, Delmas and Meehan were present but the Argentine hardly exuded an air of bonhomie. “I’m here only to speak about sporting matters,” he snapped, when asked about the coaching controversy. “What’s happened this summer is a matter only for those directly concerned. I have nothing further to add.”
Dominguez had a reputation during his 76-Test career for composure. He’s going to need all his sang-froid at Toulon because it looks like the heat is already on.