7 Jun, 15:39
ERC can confirm that the Federation Française de Rugby (FFR) has withdrawn its application to host the 2014 Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup finals, due to the ongoing uncertainty regarding the availability of the Stade de France.
While kicking maestro and Italian international Diego Dominguez remains a key figure in the Stade Francais set-up, flanker/ wing Mauro and full back Mirco have already been snapped up from Treviso and Petrarca Padova respectively, in order to bolster the Paris squad for their return to the Heineken Cup. Another new arrival at Stade Jean Bouin is Colomiers captain and outside half David Skrela, son of former France international and coach Jean-Claude.
It will be a meeting of old friends when Llanelli and Agen take each other on in Pool 4. The towns are twinned and in 1991 the clubs played each other as a result of the newly established twinning association. On May 25, 1991, Agen thumped the Scarlets 42-3 at Stade Armandie but on October 25 in a Carwyn James Memorial game to inaugurate the new North stand, Llanelli, led by now Neath/Swansea coach Lyn Jones, beat the visitors 30-19, scoring seven tries to three.
Former Saracens and Toulouse prop Christian Califano will be appearing for Agen next season, along with Beziers' Sebastien Bonetti, while Swansea, Wales and British Lions centre will boost the new Llanelli region's chances.
Heineken Cup finalists Perpignan are the biggest movers and shakers in Europe this summer, having signed six internationals.
England wing Dan Luger, Australia centre Daniel Herbert, New Zealand no 8 Scott Robertson, England prop Perry Freshwater, France and former Leicester Tigers and Toulouse prop Franck Tournaire and Munster and Ireland lock Mick O'Driscoll are all set to join the Catalan club. Other signings include Narbonne's Simon Hunt and Colin Gaston and Nicolas Grelon from Montauban.
Biarritz Olympique have acquired the services of promising Perpignan lock Jerome Thion and Montferrand wing Jimmy Marlu amongst their new signings. Former France hooker/ prop Alain Paco will join Patrice Lagisquet in the Biarritz coaching team with Laurent Rodriguez having moved to the West Indies for a change of career.
In a unique move for French rugby, Heineken Cup champions Toulouse will make no new signings this summer. Garbajosa, Jeanjean, Bouilhou and Ntamack have all extended their contracts and Toulouse will pursue their policy to recruit from within if necessary.
Bourgoin Jallieu have signed Argentine no 8 Augusto Petrilli from Bordeaux-Begles.
Duncan Hodge, who has joined Leeds Tykes from Edinburgh Rugby, will come up against his old club in Pool 2. He joins another former Edinburgh stand-off, Gordon Ross at Phil Davies' club.
The Tykes have undertaken a very active recruitment campaign for their first season in the Heineken Cup, with Italian flanker Aaron Persico the latest in the line of new arrivals. They have also enrolled Llanelli full back Matt Cardey, Cardiff prop Gary Powell, English international wing David Rees and his Bristol team mate England wing Phil Christophers.
Northampton have grabbed Perpignan front row man Renaud Peillard as well as All Black scrum half Mark Robinson and Australian full back Shane Drahm while former double Heineken Cup champions Leicester Tigers have brought in All Black centre Daryl Gibson and England prop Julian White, both from Bristol, along with Wales and British Lions prop Darren Morris and Italy outside half Ramiro Pez who joins from Rotherham.
In Ireland, Leinster's big signing so far is Bristol and Argentina outside half Felipe Contepomi, while Munster have signed up scrum half Eoin Reddan and hooker Gerry Flannery from Connacht.
The Cardiff Blues have signed on the services of four Wales internationals. Locks Craig Quinnell and Andy Moore have signed from Worcester and Bridgend respectively, prop Ben Evans arrives from Swansea and hooker Gareth Williams, also from Bridgend, will be wearing Cardiff colours next season. The region have also signed former Bristol prop Darren Crompton.