Top 10 Signings Heading into the New Pro D2 Season

Top 10 Signings Heading into the New Pro D2 Season

The ProD2 kicks-off this weekend so we’ve had a look at the top 10 players coming into France’s second division competition this season.

*Listed in alphabetical order

Gervais Cordin

Former Club: Toulon
New Club: Biarritz
Position: Wing / Full-Back

The 24-year-old was surprisingly released by Toulon at the end of last season before finding a new home with Biarritz. The versatile Back is no stranger to the ProD2 having represented Grenoble in the league from 2017-2019 where he helped them earn promotion to the top-flight.

It was then (2019) that he joined the Var team of Toulon playing at both Wing and Fullback. At only 1.72m tall, he’s more of a Cheslin Kolbe, Shane Williams, Christian Wade type of player who utilises his electric speed, superb side-stepping and vision to full effect.

Having been called up to the France training squad by Fabien Galthie in 2020 for the Six Nations tournament, let’s hope there is plenty more to come from the youngster who remarkably, won’t be strutting his stuff in the Top 14 this coming season.

Sam Davies
Former Club: Dragons (Wales)
New Club: Grenoble
Position: Fly-Half

Grenoble are one very lucky side to have added the signature of former 2013 World Rugby Young Player of the Year, Sam Davies. In the 10 years since the crowning accolade, the Welsh fly-half has earned 153 Caps for the Ospreys, played 71 matches for most recent side, Dragons, and notched eight International Caps.

Touted as one of the brightest young talents in Wales, Davies links up with Grenoble as an improved replacement for the departing Thomas Fortunel. With a deadly accurate left boot and a penetrating running game, the 29-year-old will be the perfect man to launch attacks for fellow new arrival Geoffrey Cros, Nathan Farissier and Erwan Dridi.

Thomas Francis
Former Club: Ospreys (Wales)
New Club: Aix-en-Provence
Position: Prop

Another Welshman who joins the ProD2 ranks is tighthead Prop, Thomas Francis. The 31-year-old was controversially still contracted to the Ospreys where he had one more year to run, when the opportunity arose to ply his trade in the French second division.

After Welsh Rugby Union approval and the blessing of Wales’ Head Coach, Warren Gatland, Francis was given an early release from the Ospreys and has since inked a three-year deal with the southern French club.

Having released four Props in the off-season, Aix were keen on a big signature to fill the gap, and the 31-year-old provides just that. With 71 Welsh Caps to his name, he’s got the added experienceto pass on his knowledge to fellow newcomers, 21-year-old French U20 International Elliot Yemsi, as well as Paul Mallez who’s on loan from Top 14 Champions, Toulouse.

Josh Furno
Former Club: Zebre (Italy)
New Club: Dax
Position: Lock

Having earnt promotion to the ProD2 from Nationale 1, Dax will be hoping their venture into the new league is not a short-lived stint, and they began that fighting spirit with the signing of Italian International, Josh Furno. The Lock moves across to France from close neighbours Italy, where he played for Zebre, although a new team is no stranger to the man-mountain who’s previously been at 11 other clubs! He represented Italy at the 2015 Rugby World Cup after making his international debut against Scotland in the Autumn of 2011. Not only will be bring that experience to Dax, his literal 6’7” presence will be seen and felt prominently in the line-out, by which the newly promoted club will be hoping can be a consistently reliant platform to base their offensive game off.

Jimmy Gopperth
Former Club: Leicester (England)
New Club: Aix-en-Provence
Position: Fly-Half

There is no stopping this man! At just shy of his 40 th Birthday, Gopperth will make his debut in the ProD2 for Aix where he’s penned a one-season deal to continue his incredible career.

The former Leicester player has a wealth of knowledge he’ll bring to his new side having most recently started for the Tigers in their Semi-Final against Sale; he’s also played three Finals in the New Zealand provincial Championship; a Super Rugby final, and in two grand Finals of the English Premiership.

Equally adept at inside-centre as he is at fly-half, expect to see him pulling the reigns at number 10 in a position where the team have recently failed to show consistency. Gopperth’s leadership and professionalism will bring added layers to a Club that have high hopes on challenging for promotion to the Top 14.

Jonathan Joseph
Former Club: Bath (England)

New Club: Biarritz
Position: Centre

It’s hard to imagine that in just two years, Jonathan Joseph has gone from a regular England International team-member to the French second division.

The Centre’s move to Biarritz- which extends until 2025- is a huge coup for the Basque Club. The 32-year-old previously spent 10 years at Bath where he accumulated 176 appearances, scoring 41 tries along the way. He’s been capped by the British and Irish Lions, played 54 times for England, was named the RPA Players’ Player of the Year and England Player of the Year in 2015 and started all five games during England’s 2016 Six Nations Grand Slam winning campaign.

With Rhys Webb and Billy Searle pulling the strings in front of him, and the versatile Centre Yann David beside him, Joseph is going to be a man who’ll have plenty of ball and space to work with in midfield. Expect to see him light up the ProD2 with his superb side-stepping style of play, his willingness to get over the advantage line, and a wanton ability to track his half-backs for any and every attacking opportunity.

Sione Kalamafoni
Former Club: Scarlets (Wales)
New Club: Vannes
Position: No.8

Literally and figurately, Kalamafoni’s deal with Vannes is big! The back rower has joined the ProD2 outfit on a two-year deal that sees him through until 2025.

A former Tonga International who represented his nation at three Rugby World Cups- 2011, 2015, 2019- the 34-year-old brings a versatility to his new club, having successfully played in both the second and third row.

He’ll most likely settle in at No.8 where his 6’5”, 121kg frame will hunker down the back of the scrum, and more easily allow him to peel off on a barnstorming open field run like he frequently did for Scarlets where he touched down nine times in his 54 appearances. Having previously won Player of the Season awards with both Gloucester and Leicester, Sione’s outstanding talent, professionalism and leadership will continue to rub off on the younger players at the Club.

Charlie Matthews
Former Club: Harlequins (England)
New Club: Biarritz
Position: Lock

Charlie Matthews will not be alone in the south-west of France, after his new club Biarritz also signed fellow Brits, Jonathan Joseph, Zach Kibirige, Rhys Webb and Billy Searle.

A highly prized prospect, Matthews represented England at Saxons and Age-Group level whilst racking up an impressive 172 matches for London club side, Harlequins. Despite only playing eight Premiership games last season, Biarritz where still ready to pounce on the 32-year-old, locking him in on the Basque coast until 2025.

Unlike many bigger-bodied French Locks who favour grunt over grace, Charlie offers a beautiful contrast to that. His superior 6’7” frame will certainly add a physical dominance to the BO line-out, but he also presents an enviable athletic ability in open play.

Atila Septar
Former Club: Toulon
New Club: Aix-en-Provence
Position: Wing / Centre

Atila Septar has switched the Top 14 for the ProD2 by signing for Aix-en-Provence from Toulon. French born, but Romanian Caped, the 27-year-old has the versatility of speed to play on the Wing, as well as the deft handling and bigger-body to play at Centre.

Never one to shy away from contact, Septar scored a try on his international debut for the Oaks in 2022, having previously represented France at U20 level during the 2016 Six Nations tournament.

Having finished eighth in the ProD2 last season, Provence are again one of the biggest spenders in the second division and will be pleased to have Atila available during the RWC period, after he pulled out of Romania’s side for “personal reasons.” Expect Septar to relaunch his rugby career with many appearances for Provence- he only made two starts for Toulon last year -whilst feeding off the plentiful ball that will be provided by fellow additions; Gopperth, Francis, Yemsi, Josh Tyrell, Arthur Corville, Thomas Salles and Sione Tui.

Rhys Webb
Former Club: Ospreys (Wales)
New Club: Biarritz
Position: Scrum-Half

Initially named in Wales’ preliminary World Cup training squad, Rhys Webb announced his retirement from international rugby in May when he agreed to a two-year deal with Biarritz. The 34-year-old will remain at the Basque club until 2025 in which time he hopes to drive them from ProD2 and back up to the Top 14.

Webb is no stranger to the French rugby landscape having previously played for Toulon between 2018 and 2020 and will be equally accustomed to fervent supporters as those from Biarritz, who were disappointed after an 11 th place finish last season.

The former Ospreys player with 40 Wales Caps to his name, Rhys will provide Biarritz’s newly constructed backline with quicker ball. A fast-paced game plan and an intelligent general at scrum-half is precisely what BO need if they’re to unlock the talented weapons they have out wide in Joseph, Cordin and Kibirige.

Credit: Larissa Falls

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