Gregan makes solid Toulon debut

From correspondents in Toulouse, France
October 29, 2007

GEORGE Gregan received the biggest cheer when his name was announced before kick off, and he did not disappoint in his debut for big-spending French second-division rugby club Toulon.

Coming off the bench in the second half, the former Australia captain Gregan teamed sweetly in the halves with long-time New Zealand foe Andrew Mehrtens as Toulon thumped Beziers 41-7.

The win gave Toulon supporters early hope that club backer Mourad Boudjellal's free spending may achieve the desired result of promotion to the first division for the Tana Umaga-coached team.

Mehrtens, 34, kicked 19 points while Gregan, in his first match since the Rugby World Cup quarter-final loss to England that ended his world-record 139-cap Test career, produced a stellar display at scrum-half.

Mehrtens was delighted to be playing alongside Gregan. "We are long time friends, and first played against each other 14 years ago," said Mehrtens, who has also had a spell in England. "George hasn't had too many training sessions with the boys yet but he played as if he had been there a long time."

Mehrtens relished the passionate crowd suppport in Toulon. "The red and black in the stands reminded me of the Canterbury colours, my old club in New Zealand," he said. "I felt a bit nostalgic .. but the atmosphere here is even stronger, there is even more passion and you cannot even imagine the atmosphere without playing here."

For the man who has brought former All Blacks captain Umaga in to coach the team, there was time to be cautious as well. "I am not going to go over the top about this victory as we won our first match of last season 49-12 against Mont-de-Marsan,'' said Boudjellal, who made his fortune out of cartoon books.

"The positive thing is that we are still missing some players (South Africa Rugby World Cup-winning lock Victor Matfield and All Blacks hooker Anton Oliver) with some of them being the best at their position in the world.

"When I see this team with the young guys who came through the ranks in Toulon, I say to myself: how are we going to fit in the new arrivals. "Toulon, it is cheese and pudding: there are the stars and the young from the youth system."

Agence France-Presse