Top 14
Laporte undecided on Wilkinson replacement
ESPN Staff
August 1, 2014
Matt Giteau, right, proved a phenomenal understudy for Jonny Wilkinson last season © Getty Images

Toulon are still coming to terms with life after Jonny Wilkinson as head coach Bernard Laporte admitted he has not decided who should replace the former talisman at fly-half.

After leading Toulon to an unprecedented European and domestic double last season, Wilkinson has retired to become part of Laporte's coaching staff. But while the French champions have a squad packed full of world-class operators in all positions, Laporte has yet to award the No.10 jersey to anyone on a full-time basis.

Even before this summer's arrival of James O'Connor on the Mediterranean, Toulon already boasted the likes of Frederic Michalak and Matt Giteau among their ranks. The Australian however, looks set to play a role in the midfield, with Michalak and Giteau likely to share fly-half duties when the Top 14 gets underway in a fortnight's time.

"With or without Jonny Wilkinson, the first thing you have to do is win the battle," Laporte said. "That's essential. We must not forget that in the last four months of last season, our forwards destroyed everyone. Rugby is not about one man, even if Jonny was often the difference.

"We are starting with two players at fly-half, but Matt will keep playing in the centres as well. On the other hand, Fred will only play at fly-half for us. There is no hierarchy. It would be presumptuous to establish one before we've even started playing. That will happen when we get to the play-offs."

Laporte has tipped O'Connor for a role in the centres when Toulon take on Toulouse in a warm-up game tonight. But he also hinted that the 24-year-old's versatility could see him taking on different positions as the season progresses, particularly given new rules governing the number of games France internationals are allowed to play.

"James is a very good rugby player with speed that allows him to play everywhere," Laporte added. "Against Toulouse he will play at centre. We need to take the case of Mathieu Bastareaud into account, he's in the French squad, like Fred Michalak.

"They will only be able to play 34 games this season, and as the Australia tour counts, as do friendlies, we will have to manage them."

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