Every November scores of expensive rugby players abandon their Top 14 posts to join various international squads. Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal has finally had enough, writes James Harrington.
Time and Top 14 rugby wait for no international window except the Six Nations. It may have been the first official round of the November internationals at the weekend, but that small matter did not stop the rugby powers that be in France from scheduling a full programme of top-flight domestic matches.
One look at the Toulon and Stade Francais teams that took to the pitch at Stade Felix Mayol on Sunday will tell you how badly this clash of competitions has hit some clubs. The two sides were recognisable only by the kit they were wearing.
Injuries and international call-ups meant that 40 players were unavailable for the two clubs on the day. To make matters worse for Toulon, summer arrival François Trinh-Duc requires an operation after breaking his arm playing for France against Samoa and will be out for three months.
When France take on Australia in Paris at the weekend, Toulon will lose Xavier Chiocci and Maxime Mermoz to Les Bleus for their difficult trip to Castres – in addition to French captain Guilhem Guirado and in-form flanker Charles Ollivon.
For their match against Lyon, table-toppers Clermont – already shorn by France coach Guy Novès of Wesley Fofana, Arthur Iturria, Rémi Lamerat, Noa Nakaitaci, Clement Ric, Scott Spedding and Sebastien Vahaamahina – will also give up Camille Lopez and Damien Chouly to the French cause.
Meanwhile, for those of you on Montpellier French-player watch, the endangered lesser-known homegrown player count at the club has been cut by one with the international call-up of Kélian Galletier.
The issue of releasing players during the international window has prompted Toulon president Mourad Boudjellal to take World Rugby to court, demanding €2million in compensation for having to give up a large portion of his expensively assembled squad whenever a national coach comes calling.
He has been threatening to do this for some time. He has threatened not to pay players while they are on international duty. It was reported that Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell gave up a combined AU$400,000 in club salaries to join Australia for last year’s World Cup.
In early June, he again railed against the offending regulation, Article 9, which briefly threatened to deny him fit-again Welsh fullback Leigh Halfpenny for the semifinal and final of the Top 14, after the player had spent the entire season on the injury list following Warren Gatland’s bizarre decision to unnecessarily play him in a World Cup warm-up match.
Last week, Boudjellal stepped up his challenge, heading to court in Marseille with his legal team, to face what he later described as ‘a battalion’ of World Rugby lawyers.
He is demanding a legal ruling on the troublesome Article 9 which forces the club to release players during an international window. His issue is with releasing overseas players, as the club receives compensation from French rugby’s governing body the FFR for the release of French players.
It is going to be a slow process. Legal wheels grind slowly, and the hearing last week was to decide whether the court in Marseille was able to handle the case. Boudjellal and Toulon want the challenge to be heard in France. World Rugby want to move the case to London.
Still, Boudjellal is happy just that things are moving. He said: “It will take time, but… it is already a victory to have challenged this. I hope that the other clubs will thank us because everyone will feel the jurisprudence that Toulon will have created.
It corresponds to the Toulonese spirit: we are rebels, we will not let ourselves be done.”
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