Bok prop extends French stay
South African prop forward Gurthro Steenkamp signed a new two-year deal with French champions Toulouse on Friday.
South African prop forward Gurthro Steenkamp signed a new two-year deal with French champions Toulouse on Friday, which will keep him at the club until 2016.
Steenkamp, who arrived at the French Top 14 giants in 2011, has played 40 times for the Springboks.
* In other Top 14 news former French wing Cedric Heymans will become a coach at Top 14 outfit Toulouse after bringing the curtain down on his playing career in the off-season, Toulouse president Jean-Rene Bouscatel told AFP on Friday.
"We have agreed a deal in principle," said Bouscatel, with Heymans set to work with the club's youth team.
Capped 55 times by France, Heymans spent a decade as a player at Toulouse, winning the European Cup three times and the Top 14 title twice, before moving to Basque side Bayonne in 2011.
* Meanwhile the resumption of hostilities at club level this weekend will likely once again showcase all that is good in the Top 14, arguably one of the most demanding leagues.
The run-in to the end of the season is in full flight, with just four more regular season matches remaining after this weekend.
Then the teams placed third to sixth play off for the right to meet the leading two teams in the semi-finals.
Jonny Wilkinson's Toulon stand atop the standings with 76 points from their 21 matches so far this season, two points ahead of Clermont.
Toulouse sit comfortably in third on 64 points, but coach Guy Noves will be annoyed at the likely prospect of missing out on an automatic berth in the end-of-season semi-finals.
More intriguing is the battle for the fourth, fifth and sixth teams.
Currently Castres and Racing-Metro are tied on 58 points, with Perpignan and Montpellier both on 55, Grenoble next on 48.
"We've been playing knock-out games every weekend for the last two months," Perpignan full-back Joffrey Michel half-joked ahead of his side's match against direct rivals Racing on Saturday.
"There's only five games left before the real play-offs. But it's exciting. Better that than finding ourselves out of the running."
The other crunch mid-table clash sees Grenoble host Montpellier, for whom Francois Trinh-Duc will be seeking to shine after a Six Nations where he inexplicably played second fiddle to a poor Frederic Michalak.
"It was complicated for me," the fly-half said of his time with the France team, for whom he started only once in the Six Nations, against England, finally playing only 111 minutes during the five games.
"Now I'm available for my club and I have only one desire: to think about Montpellier and the end of this championships which will be exciting.
"I'm always happy to come back here. It's always pleasing to refind my family cocoon, my mates."
But Montpellier face a tough task at Grenoble, who have lost just once in 11 home matches this season.
Toulouse host struggling Stade Francais on Sunday, and the former's coach Noves said it felt "somewhat like the start of the season" given the number of players returning from international duty.
"We feel like we're finally living a normal season since we have our players available until their departure to New Zealand (on tour with France in June)," said Noves, who saw eight of his players appear in France's Six Nations-ending 23-16 victory over Scotland last week.
"We're taking pleasure in seeing everyone again," said Noves. "We've gone through such tough moments over the last few weeks that the simple pleasure of seeing everyone again is doing us all a lot of good."
Other matches on Monday see leaders Toulon rest a host of top players as they travel to Bayonne, bottom-club Mont-de-Marsan are away to Bordeaux-Begles, Castres host Agen, and heavyweights Clermont make the trip to Biarritz.
(all times GMT)
Saturday, May 23
Bayonne v Toulon (14.00)
Racing Metro v Perpignan (14.00)
Bordeaux-Begles v Mont-de-Marsan (17.45)
Castres v Agen (17.45)
Grenoble v Montpellier (17.45)
Biarritz v Clermont (19.50)
Sunday, May 24
Toulouse v Stade Francais (20.00)