Mark Gasnier ready to shine for Top 14 leaders

After four wins out of four, Stade Francais’ start to the top 14 season has been quite phenomenal. Now it seems it could be getting even better with the arrival of someone described as the ‘best centre in the world’ – Mark Gasnier.

The 27-year-old was unveiled to his new fans and team-mates on Monday and by all accounts, is raring to go for the French side. Gasnier has caused some controversy with this move, it has to be said. Despite agreeing to stay with Australian Rugby League side St. George Illawara Dragons until 2011, he has walked out on them two years into this five-year contract. The Australian cited the club ‘not honouring certain commitments’ as the main reason for moving on, with many believing the lucrative salary had more to do with it.

Gasnier described the latest twist in his career as a difficult decision to make, but the Stade Francais’ fans shouldn’t worry about that. The Dragons loss is their gain. The player will earn around EUR 600,000 a year playing in France, but Stade Francais coach Ewen McKenzie will be hoping that he will repay this with his performances. McKenzie certainly rates him very highly, saying that whether it is in Rugby Union or Rugby League – Gasnier is the best centre in the world at this moment in time.

Gasnier could actually play in a number of positions for Stade Francais and it will be interesting to see how McKenzie chooses to use him. There is no doubt he will need time to adapt after switching codes to Union though. In fact, it is likely we won’t see the best of him in the Top 14 for a few weeks yet. He is likely to sit out this weekend’s match against Brive, but will make his debut against Bourgoin on Saturday 27th October.

When he does settle into life in a new country, a new club, and a new code of Rugby, I would place a lot of my rugby betting money on him being a huge hit in the Top 14. It is players like him that will help Stade Francais – who finished 3rd last time around – maintain their excellent start to the season. The fact that his new coach is a fellow Australian will help Gasnier feel at home and I honestly back him to live up to the hype that has surrounded his move.

In other Top 14 news, Clermont moved up to sixth in the table after recording a much needed home win over Toulouse. Loïc Jacquet inspired his side to a 16-6 win over the Top 14 champions, despite the absence of their captain – Aurélien Rougerie. I’d now like to see the rugby odds on them going on an unbeaten run – Clermont are 4/1 to lift the Top 14 trophy. This win should restore the belief amongst the Clermont players. I’m certainly looking forward to watching them take on Gasnier’s Stade Francais in November – that should be quite a contest.

By Thomas Rooney