End of an era in Toulon – Laporte

Date published: June 6 2015

Bernard Laporte admits it's the end of an era at Toulon after the club was knocked out of the Top 14 play-offs by Stade Français.

The triple European champions were hoping to defend their French title, but were well-beaten in Bordeaux, eventually going down 33-16 to an impressive Stade side.

It was an emotional occasion, after the tragic death of former Toulon player Jerry Collins in a car crash on Friday morning, with All Black trio Carl Hayman, Ali Williams and particularly Chris Masoe, clearly affected.

The first two mentioned, along with Bakkies Botha, will now call time on their careers, while Masoe will leave for Racing-Métro next season.

Toulon have already restocked for next season, with the likes of Ma'a Nonu, Samu Manoa and Salesi Ma'afu on their way, while Duane Vermeulen and Paul O'Connell are expected to join them.

However, Laporte wanted to pay tribute to his departing players after an incredible run of titles and trophies.

"A semi-final, as we know, often comes down to little things," he told Rugbyrama

"In the first half we were a little nervous, there were three or four players who were off their game, we have to say it like it is. But despite that, we should have scored at the end of the first half, instead conceded a try under the posts. 

"That killed us, given that it was already difficult. After that we came up against a good team who can move the ball, are aggressive in the rucks, whereas we had one chance and Matt (Giteau) dropped the ball. But that's how it is as the highest level, it comes down to little things and often when it doesn't go your way, it's because your opponent was better.

"It was a very difficult day, and very moving. When you get up in the morning and see everyone crying. When you see big guys like Carl (Hayman), Ali (Williams), Chris (Masoe) who had collapsed, were hugging each other, you knew something serious had happened, and when you find out, you feel powerless. 

"You can't put yourself in the position of the players. As I told them, if you don't want to play, then don't play. This goes beyond sport, I would understand. But I think they are great guys. I wouldn't have been able to play.

"I think it had an impact on the day, but not on the pitch. Chris played a great game. I think Ali was quite annoyed, a little less calm that usual, and Carl is someone who is generally pretty calm. I don't think it played a part. But above all it's the end of an era. 

"That's what I told them, I remember that Carl, Bakkies (Botha), Ali and Chris arrived at the club at the same time as me. We had just finished ninth and as Mourad (Boudjellal) said, we were fighting relegation more than playing for titles. Now we've won three European titles, one French title and always reach the semi-finals. 

"We lost to a good team, that's sport, but I'll remember that everything they did at Toulon because there aren't many players who arrive at a club and make it what it is today. It's thanks to them and I just want to thank them, it's been a pleasure to know them, to coach them, to train them, because they are great guys."