It's a big season for...
August 12, 2010
Carl Hayman has chosen Toulon over the All Blacks © Getty Images
The start of a new season brings with it hope and trepidation in equal measure. A World Cup season sees players ramp up the nerves even further as domestic dreams become intertwined with hopes of world domination. The Top 14 kicks off on Friday with some of the world's biggest names cast into the French melting pot and we've taken a look at the men who need to impress in our latest Scrum Seven.
Sione Lauaki - Clermont Auvergne
A fresh start. Turning over a new leaf. A new lease of life. Whatever you want to call it, former All Black back-rower Lauaki has the chance with the reigning French champions. His rumbustious, physical presence at No.8 will benefit Les Jaunards as they look to defend their prized title but Lauaki's battle must also take place off the field. By defecting to France he has removed himself from the All Blacks equation, and also the alcohol and disciplinary problems which led to his installation as headline news on home soil. A superb player with a point to prove...lovely stuff.
Maxime Medard - Toulouse
He may boast the best sideburns in the business but Medard's star has waned in recent months. He has not pulled on a blue jersey since the hammering by New Zealand in November 2009, falling behind Aurelien Rougerie, Marc Andreu, Benjamin Fall and Julien Malzieu in the wing pecking order and Clement Poitrenaud in the fullback stakes. Still, for a player of his prodigious talents a new season at Toulouse is one of boundless opportunity. Le Rouge et Noir are one of the few French sides to take European competition seriously and Medard has maximum opportunity to force his way back into Marc Lievremont's plans. It'll take some doing, but watch this space.
Jerome Porical - Perpignan
Last season was one of disappointment for Perpignan as their French title was pinched by Clermont in the finale, months after their lack of application had seen them humiliated by Benetton Treviso and Munster in the Heineken Cup, but Porical remained a constant with confident, assured performances in the No.15 jersey. He made his Test debut for France as they were hammered by Argentina in June and he needs to continue improving, from the kicking tee as well as in open play, in order to ensure that he does not become another Marc Lievremont selection to slip through the cracks. Clermont first-up will be a litmus test for his mindset after a tough introduction to international competition.
Carl Hayman - Toulon
What do you get the man who has everything? Something new, obviously. Hayman's decision to leave Newcastle at the end of last season sent chequebooks fluttering in France and put New Zealand Rugby Union officials on notice, with new orders for All Blacks jerseys in size 'MASSIVE' placed immediately. The lure of the World Cup was not enough for the former Test regular however and Toulon's flamboyant president Mourad Boudjellal got his man, as he did with Tana Umaga and Jonny Wilkinson. Like so many All Blacks Hayman has World Cup ghosts to bury after their 2007 debacle but he has chosen to experience a new challenge in the world's toughest league. If any player has a point to prove with some heart and soul performances it's him, but he's shown in the past, particularly with his beyond the call of duty hand-over dossier at Newcastle, that he does not do half measures.
Frans Steyn - Racing Metro
He's in, out, in, out (and shake it all about). Frans Steyn has spent much of his Racing Metro career being the exception that proves the rule in terms of South Africa's overseas selection policy. Now, with their Tri-Nations campaign nestled just above England's football World Cup bid in the success stakes, he's been yanked back into the international fold, injury permitting, as Racing gear up for their season opener. When he returns, he has some heads to turn. Last season the enigmatic centre/fullback was conscientious and effective in bursts but didn't send jaws crashing to the floor. He's got a great deal of talent and a fantastic temperament for a 23-year-old (World Cup-winner) and will be knocking down the door for a place in the Springbok squad in New Zealand if he can help Racing climb further than the quarter-finals this season.
Fabien Barcella - Biarritz
Barcella finished 2009 as the finest loose-head in the world in the eyes of many, but a series of injury problems prevented him from adding to his stature in 2010. As France swept to the Grand Slam, with Clermont's Thomas Domingo in the No.1 jersey, memories of Barcella's destructive display against South Africa in Toulouse last November faded quickly. He made his Test return in Les Bleus' ill-fated meeting with the Pumas but must press on now that the World Cup is looming. Biarritz are blessed with a gnarled forward pack and Barcella has a platform to blow away a few cobwebs, and his rivals for a Test spot, in the early rounds of the season.
Sergio Parisse - Stade Francais
Stade Francais have courted their showbiz image for a number of years, rolling out the Moulin Rouge girls for their Stade de France sell-outs while continuing to astound with their garish playing kits. Behind the scenes however there has been coaching turmoil and on field they have become the rugby definition of no bang for your buck. This season, president Max Guazzini has handed the reins to former Leinster coach Michael Cheika, a tough-talking Australian who has been to the top of the game in Europe. Cheika's first move was to hand the captaincy to Parisse, who is tasked with pulling together the disparate strands of a talented playing squad. He's done so with fewer means as Italy skipper and with such prodigious talent behind him he can lead from the front in hope that his side will follow. There's no Heineken Cup to aim at, their eighth place finish last season saw to that, so it's play-offs or bust for Parisse.