Stade Francais break new ground
Thu, 29 Aug 2013 12:42
We've had a more ambitious recruitment than in recent seasons
Stade Francais will inaugurate a refurnished Jean-Bouin stadium when they take on Biarritz in Top 14 action on Friday.
Stade president Thomas Savare called the home stadium in west Paris a "fundamental element" for the club, which has played at the cross-city Charlety stadium during the reconstruction.
"Without Jean-Bouin, I would absolutely not have taken over Stade Francais," said Savare.
"It's impossible to envisage having a club in the Top 14 without a modern working arena, especially in Paris."
The rejigged stadium will be able to seat 20,000, with Savare aiming for an average gate of 13,500.
The president also hopes that on-field performances will improve, with his target a spot in the end-of-season play-offs.
"It's tough, probably even more than last year, because it's a very competitive championships, but possible," Savare said.
"We've had a more ambitious recruitment than in recent seasons and the goal is to stabilise the squad."
Stade will have Morne Steyn available for the visit of Biarritz, one of five of South Africa's Rugby Championship squad to have been released to play for French clubs this weekend.
Among the four others is wing Bryan Habana, the 2007 Rugby World Cup winner who is all set to make his Top 14 debut at Grenoble.
Habana is the latest big-name signing for Mourad Boudjellal's Toulon, who romped to European Cup victory last season but went down to Castres in the Top 14 final.
"Toulon is a new challenge, a new environment, it's exciting," Habana said of his move to the Mediterranean club.
Toulon put fellow big spenders Racing-Metro, bolstered by British and Irish Lions signings Johnny Sexton, Dan Lydiate and Jamie Roberts, to the sword last week in a runaway 41-14 victory.
Racing will look to rebound at home against newly-promoted Oyonnax.
Saturday's plum fixture sees Clermont take on Toulouse, the latter already in the midst of a front-row injury crisis with the season only two games old.
"The story goes on. Last year we had the same problems in the same positions," said Toulouse president Jean-Rene Bouscatel.
In their convincing 40-3 victory over Bayonne last weekend, props Vasil Kakovin (ruptured knee ligaments) and Antoine Guillamon (hand fracture), and hooker Jaba Bregvadze (back) all went off injured and all will be out for a long while.
That leaves forwards coach William Servat likely to be summoned to change out of his tracksuit, as he was last season after injuries to South African Gary Botha and Bregvadze, as well as the suspension of Christopher Tolofua.
Reinforcements will also come in the shape of Springbok duo Chiliboy Ralepelle and Gurthro Steenkamp, although the former will not be available as he recovers from a back injury.
Clermont's Kiwi coach Vern Cotter said it was imperative that his team bounce back from a shock 30-19 defeat by Oyonnax.
"We're still at the start of the season," Cotter said. "Some things worked, other less so.
"We have to analyse and advance."
Clermont will play six games in September, including three in eight days, and Cotter called on the squad to come together.
"Toulouse are ahead of us. We've got a week to catch up."
Elsewhere, champions Castres travel to Bordeaux-Begles, Bayonne host Perpignan, and Montpellier entertain Brive.
All the weekend's Top 14 fixtures (all times GMT):
Friday, August 30: Stade Francais v Biarritz (18.50)
Saturday, August 31: Clermont v Toulouse (13.00), Bordeaux-Begles v Castres, Montpellier v Brive, Racing-Metro v Oyonnax (all 16.30), Bayonne v Perpignan (18.30), Grenoble v Toulon (18.35)
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