Planet Rugby

Toulon plan for life after Wilkinson

01st August 2014 10:28


Toulon Jonny Wilkinson L leaves the field injured as Frederic Michalak C enters

Fred Michalak: Will only play fly-half

Bernard Laporte has explained that he has not yet decided on the long-term successor to Jonny Wilkinson at Toulon as they prepare for their first pre-season game against Toulouse.

After helping Toulon to a European and domestic double last season, Wilkinson has moved into the coaching staff, with Frédéric Michalak and Matt Giteau set to share fly-half duties in the early stages of the season.

Giteau will switch between ten and centre, where he was so influential last season, with Michalak focusing solely on the fly-half role despite being capable of playing both half-back positions.

And while replacing Wilkinson will be a challenge for Laporte, he insists the key for success this year will be maintaining dominance up front.

"With or without Jonny Wilkinson, the first thing you have to do is win the battle," he said.

"That's essential. We must not forget that in the last four months of last season, our forwards destroyed everyone. Rugby is not about one man, even if Jonny was often the difference.

"We are starting with two players at fly-half, but Matt will keep playing in the centres as well. On the other hand, Fred will only play at fly-half for us. There is no hierarchy. It would be presumptuous to establish one before we've even started playing. That will happen when we get to the play-offs."

With Michalak and Giteau set to share the fly-half duties, new signing James O'Connor will start life in France in the midfield.

However his versatility means that in the long-term he could well line up elsewhere for Toulon, especially with the new rules in place limiting the number of games for members of the French squad.

"James is a very good rugby player with speed that allows him to play everywhere," Laporte added.

"Against Toulouse he will play at centre. We need to take the case of Mathieu Bastareaud into account, he's in the French squad, like Fred Michalak.

"They will only be able to play 34 games this season, and as the Australia tour counts, as do friendlies, we will have to manage them."

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