World Cup winners Etzebeth, Pollard set for Top 14 debuts

Paris (AFP) –


South Africa's Rugby World Cup winners Eben Etzebeth and Handre Pollard are expected to make their French Top 14 bows this weekend for Toulon and Montpellier.

Lock Etzebeth, 28, who has joined the three-time European champions on a two-year deal, has already played in two Challenge Cup fixtures and could line up against last year's runners up Clermont on Sunday.

Fly-half Pollard, 25, has signed a deal keeping him at the GGL Stadium until 2022 but has been forced to wait for his first appearance, against Racing 92 on Saturday, due to a facial injury suffered celebrating the Webb Ellis trophy victory in November.

The towering Etzebeth, who will reportedly earn more than 1 million euros ($1.1 million) a season at Stade Felix Mayol, joins a long list of Springboks to play for the side run by controversial president Mourad Boudjellal.

"Toulon were quite an easy choice. Many South Africans have played here. Bryan Habana, Bakkies Botha, Duane Vermeulen and many many more," he told AFP earlier this week.

"For me to speak to them and them telling me how special the club is and how successful the club is was something I wanted to be a part of. That's what made my decision to come easy," he added.

This weekend Toulon host fifth-placed Clermont eyeing their ninth straight victory across all competitions.

Former France lock Sebastien Vahaamahina is available for the visitors after finishing his 10-week suspension for elbowing Wales' Aaron Wainwright at the quarter-finals of the tournament in Japan.

"It was unlucky what happened to him at the World Cup. I'm looking forward to the challenge against him," Etzebeth said.

- Ambitious Pollard -

Former Blue Bulls playmaker Pollard, who scored 22 points in the final victory over England, says the World Cup triumph is behind him.

"It's a memory which will stay with me forever and also give me confidence because we won at the highest level," he told the Rugbyrama website.

"From now on the most important things for me is the future and to win a trophy with Montpellier," added the playmaker, who will reportedly be paid 1.26 million euros a season at Montpellier.

On Saturday, Pollard's Montpellier, who are third in the table, travel to Paris after the 2012 junior World Cup winner missed more than a month with injury.

"Originally I wanted to play last weekend but they told me I had to wait for another week. It's been six weeks now and there's no longer a problem," he said.

"I'm ready to face Racing and to attack the next seven months. I can't wait to get started," he added.

Elsewhere, champions Toulouse head to Agen without Etzebeth and Pollard's fellow World Cup winner Cheslin Kolbe, who has a rib injury.

On Sunday, bottom side Stade Francais, who have 14 French titles to their name, host Pau looking for just their third win of the league campaign.

Fixtures (all times GMT)


Castres v Lyon, Racing v Montpellier, Bayonne v Brive (all 1435), Agen v Toulouse (1645)


Stade Francais v Pau (1130), Bordeaux-Begles v La Rochelle (1550), Toulon v Clermont (2000)