Paris - Time is running out for Englishman Mike Ford at
three-time European champions Toulon ahead of this weekend's Top 14 matches.
Toulon, French champions in 2014, are stuck in a fierce
battle to make the end of season play-offs.
Ford was brought in to replace Diego Dominguez in October
after the club had endured a poor start to the season.
But despite winning his opening match 42-12 against
Grenoble, things have not improved under Ford - his league record is four wins
from nine matches, while Dominguez managed four wins from eight.
Last time out, they lost 23-20 at home to surprise leaders
La Rochelle, leading to furious club president Mourad Boudjellal trying to
cancel the players' winter holiday, before eventually relenting.
Ford's position is all the more precarious with rumours that
former Stade Francais and Montpellier coach Fabian Galthie is being lined up to
take over next season.
Toulon are fifth in the league, inside the top six play-off
spots, but with third placed Montpellier only seven points ahead of
Bordeaux-Begles in ninth, the battle is fierce.
Such is Toulon's desperation that they signed controversial
Australian rugby league star Ben Barba last week despite the 27-year-old having
recently had problems with cocaine use.
Barba is unlikely to feature on Saturday against Lyon as he
has not played since being released by the Cronulla Sharks in November, but
Boudjellal is sure the full-back will bring some quality to Toulon.
"He is phenomenally talented, there aren't many like
this in world rugby. Genius doesn't need much time to adapt," Boudjellal
said when unveiling Barba.
Toulon will be missing some important players including
France captain Guilhem Guirado and Wales full-back Leigh Halfpenny for the
But they do welcome back from injury Australian
international Drew Mitchell, set to start at fullback, and France international
backrower Charles Ollivon, while they were boosted by the announcement on
Thursday that All Black legend Ma'a Nonu has signed a one-year contract
extension keeping him at Toulon next season.
They are level on 42 points with Pau, on a five-match
winning run, and Toulouse, with champions Racing 92 only a single point further
One saving grace for Ford's team, though, is that visitors
Lyon have lost eight and drawn one of their nine away matches this season and
will likely have limited ambition.
But Racing 92, Pau and Bordeaux-Begles (39 points) are also
playing at home, although Castres (on 43 points) and Toulouse face trips to Bordeaux
and Montpellier respectively.
At the top La Rochelle and Clermont should at least maintain
their gap over the rest as they host Stade Francais and Bayonne respectively -
two teams to have lost every away match this season.
Clermont trail La Rochelle by a point but are seven clear of
While those two look certainties to make the top six
play-offs, champions Racing are in eighth.
Last week's nine-try demolition of rock-bottom Bayonne has
at least kept them in the chase.
Another home game against Brive on Saturday could see them
climb into the top six with a win during what has otherwise been a torrid
defence of their crown.
Last week there was the bonus of seeing France international
wing Teddy Thomas return to form with a brace of tries, and having been cleared
by the league's disciplinary commission for a dangerous tackle on Fiji's
Napolioni Nalaga three weeks ago, he is set to face Brive.
Elsewhere, South African international brothers Jannie and
Bismarck Du Plessis will miss Montpellier's clash with Toulouse as they have
returned home for their father Francois's funeral.