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Just how good could Mourad Boudjellal's Toulon be next season?

It doesn’t look like the Top 14 giant’s European dominance will fade any time soon.

TOULON ARE CURRENTLY preparing themselves for Friday evening’s Top 14 semi-final against Stade Français, but you can be certain that Mourad Boudjellal is already thinking of further glory next season.

Having won the Heineken Cup and Top 14 last season, RCT are on course for another double in this campaign. It would be a remarkable achievement but not a wholly surprising one.

Paul O'Connell Paul O'Connell is expected to confirm a move to Toulon for next season. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The quality of Toulon’s squad means that they were widely expected to compete for both the Champions Cup and French league again this season, their depth allowing them to battle on both fronts.

Clermont face Toulouse in Saturday’s second Top 14 semi-final, desperate to reach the Stade de France decider and gain some revenge for their European disappointment against Bernard Laporte’s side.

Looking further down the track, Toulon will undergo some change over the summer, with influential pair Bakkies Botha and Ali Williams retiring and Chris Masoe’s transfer to Racing Métro having been officially confirmed.

So who is joining the Côte d’Azur club in the off-season to compensate for those losses?

Paul O’Connell is expected to confirm his move to Toulon on a two-year deal in at some stage this month, after the IRFU and Munster agreed to release him from the last season of his contract in Ireland.

On the already-confirmed list for Toulon are stars such as Ma’a Nonu, Samu Manoa, Salesi Ma’afu and Quade Cooper. There has been no official confirmation on South Africa number eight Duane Vermeulen just yet, but his move to Toulon appears to be all but set in stone.

It also seems possible that James O’Connor will return to RCT post-World Cup, having spent a six-month stint in France in 2014. The Reds, however, have denied that that will be the case.

Either way, O’Connell will be in good company.

Ma'a Nonu breaks away Ma'a Nonu has been in brilliant form in 2015 and will join Toulon later this year. Source: Photosport/Andrew Cornaga/INPHO

Aside from those big-name signings, Boudjellal is also bringing in Thibault Lassalle, Jonathan Pélissié, Julian Caminati, Mohamed Boughanmi and Bayonne pair Charles Ollivon and Anthony Etrillard.

All of those are French players who don’t come with huge wage demands and most of them have not hit their ceiling of potential. The superb number eight Ollivon and goal-kicking scrum-half Pélissié are already France internationals, while 22-year-old hooker Etrillard is slowly heading in that direction.

Crucially for Boudjellal, these men will help Toulon go some way towards fulfilling JIFF [joueurs issus des filières de formation] regulations, the rules that attempt to encourage clubs to produce their own players or at least turn to French-produced talent.

From next season, Top 14 clubs will be required to include at least 12 JIFF players in their match-day squads, a JIFF player being anyone who has spent at least three years licensed to the Fédération Française de Rugby before reaching the age of 21.

It’s the non-JIFF players that Boudjellal seems to be more interested in much of the time, however, and he would get no greater satisfaction than from officially announcing the signing of a world-class lock and leader like O’Connell.

Certainly, the departures of Botha, Williams and Masoe will reduce the experience levels in the RCT squad, meaning O’Connell has become a priority signing in the last month. He looks like the figure that can tie Boudjellal’s plans for ongoing dominance together.

The sheer depth of Toulon’s squad means O’Connell wouldn’t be facing the slog that some presume the French league to be. Indeed, each of Boudjellal’s incoming galacticos will have a ready-made replacement to take their place whenever the fatigue sets in, or to avoid it in the first place.

Samu Manoa and Fritz Lee Samu Manoa is one his way to Toulon on a rare four-year contract. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Toulon aren’t going away if Boudjellal has anything to do with it.

Having a brilliant rugby brain like Bernard Laporte in charge of the operation for one more season, before he hands over to former Italy international Diego Dominguez, makes the possibility of further success in 2015/16 all the greater.

Even the fact that Dominguez has already started his apprenticeship under Laporte points to the fact that Boudjellal craves the sustainability of the success as much as the most immediate challenge.

He is constantly in search of the next big signing to thrill RCT’s fans, even if they are already spoiled by the likes of Matt Giteau, Leigh Halfpenny, Steffon Armitage, Mathieu Basatareaud and Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe.

We’ve rarely seen the likes of Toulon before in rugby and it looks like this juggernaut will only continue to pick up speed.

Potential Toulon XV next season:

15. Leigh Halfpenny
14. Drew Mitchell/Josua Tuisova
13. Mathieu Bastareaud
12. Matt Giteau/Ma’a Nonu
11. Bryan Habana
10. Quade Cooper
9. Sébastien Tillous-Borde

1. Xavier Chiocci
2. Guilhem Guirado
3. Salesi Ma’afu
4. Samu Manoa
5. Paul O’Connell*
6. Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe
7. Steffon Armitage
8. Duane Vermeulen*

Possible second-string Toulon XV next season:

ToulonÕs Mamuka Gorgodze 'Gorgodzilla' is likely to be back-up to the front-liners next season. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

15. Delon Armitage
14. Josua Tuisova
13. Maxime Mermoz
12. Jimmy Yobo
11. Julian Caminati
10. Frédéric Michalak/James O’Connor*
9. Jonathan Pélissié

1. Alexandre Menini
2. Jean-Charles Orioli
3. Levan Chilachava/Mohamed Boughanmi
4. Romain Taofifenua/Jocelino Suta
5. Konstantin Mikautadze/Thibault Lassalle
6. Juan Smith
7. Mamuka Gorgodze/Virgile Bruni
8. Charles Ollivon

* denotes that transfer has not been confirmed by Toulon.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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