Preview: Top 14, Round Five

Fri, 22 Sep 2017 07:35
Large french players with top 14 trophy 800

PLANET ALTRAD IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Montpellier might be runaway leaders of the French Top 14, but they have been making headlines for all the wrong reasons off the pitch.

The Vern Cotter-coached side ran in six tries in a 43-20 thumping of fellow heavyweights Toulon last week to continue their 100 percent start to the season.

But club president Mohed Altrad, the Syrian Bedouin-born French billionaire businessman, has found himself in the crosshairs of the Union of Professional Rugby clubs (UCPR).

Altrad signed an agreement with Bernard Laporte's company to exploit the image of the former France coach, at the same time as Altrad's company became a jersey sponsor of the France XV.

Laporte has also been accused of helping to have reduced a fine imposed on Montpellier last season for a protest banner flown by their supporters. His intervention, which he said involved a phone call to offer a "political perspective", prompted seven members of the federation's appeals board to resign.

Laporte's contract with Altrad has since been withdrawn, but the affair has overshadowed the former's stewardship of France's bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup, with presentations on Monday and a final decision on who will host to be taken in London in November.

France's minister for sport Laura Flessel is now involved, awaiting further information on the scandal, but Altrad has not been slow in coming out all guns blazing.

"I'm upsetting a bunch of imbeciles at Clermont, Pau, La Rochelle and Agen," Altrad told Le Figaro newspaper this week, further fanning fires by stating his interest in star South African back Johan Goosen, who has left Racing 92 despite being under contract with the Parisian club.

"It's not blokes like that who'll make me tremble," he said, taking particular aim at Clermont president Eric De Cromieres over claims Altrad tapped up players at other clubs.

"Do you believe that De Cromieres called me in 2015 to tell me he was going to offload Scott Spedding?"

De Cromieres responded by saying: "As for invective and insults, I think Mr Altrad clearly shows he has nothing to defend his actions. When you have so few arguments, it's because you don't have much to say and to object in an objective way."

Agen president Alain Tingaud, vice-president of the LNR - the body that oversees professional rugby in France - also waded into the argument.

"Altrad is on the planet Altrad, we do not share any value with this gentleman," Tingaud told Le Petit Bleu d'Agen.

"He's a dangerous man for professional rugby, he owes me nothing, I owe him nothing, but I can't stand his way of insulting presidents with barely-covered barbs without the courage to say things."

Montpellier, with All Black Aaron Cruden and Springbok Ruan Pienaar dictating play from half-back behind France No 8 Louis Picamoles, travel to Bordeaux-Begles on Saturday.

But they will be without South African lock forward Paul Willemse, who is set for six weeks on the sidelines with a right knee ligament injury.

The day's headline match sees Clermont, fresh from destroying Brive 62-6, host Racing 92, also sitting pretty after racking up three wins.

Fixtures (all times GMT)

Saturday, September 23:
Clermont v Racing 92 (12.45)
Agen v Pau (16.00)
Bordeaux-Begles v Montpellier (16.00)
La Rochelle v Oyonnax (16.00)
Brive v Toulouse (18.45)

Sunday, September 24
Lyon v Castres (10.30)
Stade Francais v Toulon (14.50)


Agence France-Presse