We are just over a third of the way through the European rugby season and some players and teams are yet to fully make their mark on the 2015/16 campaign.
It’s a post-World Cup season and lots of players are yet to reach the form they showed at the tournament or even last term.
Here we take a look at three of Toulon’s flops so far this season.
For a man touted as England’s saviour, he’s failed to live up to the media hype in the red of Toulon. This season, Armitage hasn’t made it into the team and is getting benched in favour of David Smith and Fernandez Lobbe.
Armitage is meant to be an openside who can run and is a burglar at the breakdown. However, he hasn’t been turning over ball after ball like he should. The placement of Armitage at number eight shows he isn’t demanding a place in that team. If he can’t play regularly for his club side, then why is he being mooted as England’s new messiah?
For many people Nonu was playing his best ever rugby back in October, but what’s happened to Toulon’s newest galactico? Nonu was playing his best ever rugby last year and now he’s making basic errors, which are not associated with southern hemisphere centres.
For the All Blacks and Hurricanes, Nonu carried more than most, as his size and stature exceeded most of his teammates’. But in European rugby, the ball is often given to forwards rather than backs and Nonu doesn’t get the ball as much as he would in New Zealand. With a set-piece driven game, European rugby is not tailor made for Nonu who likes space and to run; luxuries the Top 14 can’t deliver.
Cooper might have an interest in boxing but he doesn’t like the physicality of the rugby played within Europe. The hard hits don’t suit him and he doesn’t like how many phases there are. Aussie coach Michael Cheika did the right thing in opting for a lesser known fly half in Bernard Foley at the World Cup.
Cooper can’t defend very well to begin with and he doesn’t like physical confrontation. In Super Rugby, everyone wants to play attacking rugby, with less emphasis on set-pieces. In Europe, we love a set-piece and that means less time on the ball for backs, so you have to use the ball a lot better and safer. But Cooper gives the ball away far too often to play in the Top 14. To improve, he needs to play easier passes and to kick for territory more rather than kicking for tries, as points on the board win games.
For Toulon to retain the Champions Cup, the backs must improve and the ball must be given to an attacking Cooper and a Nonu who wants to beat defenders. Toulon need to get Matt Giteau, Drew Mitchell and Leigh Halfpenny playing regularly as their presence will steady the sinking ship.
Patrick Perry, Pundit Arena