Biggest Top 14 transfer flops

Date published: May 14 2015

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Zac Guildford's stint at Clermont came to an end after less than a season last week, but can he crack our list of the worst Top 14 signings?

In no particular order, here is our pick of ten of the worst recruitments made by Top 14 clubs in the last few seasons.

Willie Mason and Gavin Henson (Toulon): Heralded as the next Sonny Bill Williams, former league star Willie Mason would later be voted the biggest flop in Toulon's history after playing just 74 minutes for the Top 14 club. His one game ended with an ignominious defeat to Montpellier, before he was released in December, less than six months after arriving. Already 32 when he arrived, he never managed to force his way past Matt Giteau and Mathieu Bastareaud in the centres, although off the field he probably made a better impression than predecessor Gavin Henson. The Wales centre also endured an ill-fated stint in the Var, with his most noteworthy moment coming when he reportedly criticised Jonny Wilkinson and captain Joe van Niekerk on a night out before being let go after four months.

Rene Ranger (Montpellier): One of the form players in Super Rugby in his final season for the Blues, there were big question marks over whether Ranger would actually head to the Top 14 as he tried to get out of his contract to pursue his All Black ambitions. Mohed Altrad held firm over the big money contract he had offered, and when Ranger couldn't stump up the cash, he set off to the Top 14. While there have been occasional flashes of the old Ranger, he's also typified Montpellier's disastrous season, and after undergoing surgery he won't play for them again before he returns to the New Zealand. That means his final game with the club came at Toulouse last month, when he twice failed to deal with high kicks from Luke McAlister leading to two tries. A fitting way to bow out.

Chiliboy Ralepelle (Toulouse): On the pitch Chiliboy Ralepelle generally did the job for Toulouse, and he certainly looked a better signing than Springbok predecessor Gary Botha. The problem is that he played just nine Top 14 games before tearing his ACL. That's a blow for any player, but while he started his long recovery, worse news was to follow. Reports emerged that Ralepelle had failed a doping test, followed by months of confusion where the player continued his recovery, and Toulouse waited to find out what the situation was with a potential ban. The wait for a decision over the failed test dragged on and on, and while Ralepelle's future remains unclear, it won't be at Toulouse, with the two parties going their separate ways in January.

Paul Perez (Toulon, Castres, Biarritz): The only man on this list to have played fewer minutes in the Top 14 than Willie Mason, Paul Perez is an intriguing player. Convicted of a domestic violence offence in 2009, the Samoan Sevens star was due to head to Toulon in 2010, only to be denied a visa as a result of that conviction. Two years later it was a similar story when Castres tried to bring him on board as a medical joker. Finally, Biarritz thought they had their man on a three-year deal in 2013, but yet again he was blocked on visa grounds. Without him, Biarritz were relegated, although how much impact Perez would have had, it's hard to know. He's still only 28, so there is still time for a fourth team to take a chance on him.

Dan Lydiate (Racing Métro): For some a move to France can transform their games and help them take that next step, Nick Abendanon is the most obvious current example, but from a Welsh perspective, Stephen Jones benefited greatly from his move to Clermont. Not all Welsh players have been quite as successful though, and Dan Lydiate probably stands out as the worst of the bunch. The Wales flanker arrived in Paris as a Lions star and the reigning Six Nations player of the tournament. A hard-worker, he didn't seem to fit the mould of player who turn up just for the paycheck. Lydiate never managed to settle at Racing though, with his unique style never quite fitting with the Parisians' style of play. Kept out of the side by French international duo Bernard le Roux and Wenceslas Lauret, Lydiate cut an increasingly lonely figure as he failed to establish himself. In the end it was clear it wasn't working and both sides cut their losses in December with Lydiate returning to Wales to join the Ospreys.

Dan Carter (Perpignan): From one former Racing star to a future one, but we'll focus on Dan Carter's time at Perpignan. He's a contrast to most Top 14 flops in that his time at the club coincided with an extremely successful period in the club's history. In Carter's one season, Perpignan picked up their first Bouclier de Brennus in half a century, but unfortunately their All Black star wasn't on the pitch to enjoy it. That's because Carter played just five games for Perpignan before injuring his Achilles tendon. On the pitch he produced as would be expected from the world's best player, most memorably in a fine win over Stade Français at the Stade de France. However when you pay €700,000 for six months' work, you probably want a little more than five games out of your star.

Digby Ioane and Morné Steyn (Stade Français): It's amazing to think that Stade Français have managed to turn their fortunes around when their two big money signings in the last two seasons have been such disappointments. While Drew Mitchell was busy showing that Australian wingers can cut it in Europe a fortnight ago, Digby Ioane has really struggled in the capital, scoring just three tries in two seasons in the Top 14. There have been moments of class, but like Ranger at Montpellier, they've been all too rare. Morné Steyn has been even more underwhelming, and has been relegated to second choice behind Jules Plisson. The low point undoubtedly came at Lyon earlier this season when he was sent off in his first start of the campaign, while even his goal-kicking has been unusually poor since arriving in the capital. Steyn did produce his best performance in a Stade shirt this weekend however, in the derby win over Racing, and with Plisson done for the year, he has the chance to turn things around.

John Smit (Clermont): Last but not least we have a World Cup-winning captain whose stay in the Top 14 was altogether less fruitful. The Springbok skipper was an odd choice to bring in given that Clermont already had one of his closest challengers for the title of world's best hooker in Mario Ledesma. Smit never managed to oust the Puma, and even had to fill in at prop in order to get game time. After just one season, he packed his bags and returned to South Africa, with Ledesma keeping his job and eventually helping Clermont to their first Top 14 title a couple of years later.

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