Jacky Lorenzetti has revealed that not even his deep pockets could afford the asking price to bring England talisman Maro Itoje to Racing and save the Saracens lock from playing Championship rugby in 2020/21.
The London club goes head-to-head with the Parisians this Saturday in the semi-final of the Champions Cup, a match in which Itoje could have been wearing the colours of Racing if a deal was sealed in the wake of Saracens’ automatic relegation to the English second-tier earlier this year following repeated salary cap breaches.
There were negotiations between Racing and Itoje about the possibility of the England second row making a switch to the Top 14, but those talks came to nothing.
It was thought the attempted recruitment was cooled due to the rule that prevents Eddie Jones from selecting players who are not based in the country for England. However, Lorenzetti has now claimed there was another reason – what Itoje would have cost them.
Ahead of the Champions Cup last-four encounter, the Racing owner was asked by rugbyrama.fr if Itoje was too greedy. He replied: “Yes, it was unplayable. You know, we weren’t the only ones at the time: Bordeaux, Lyon, Montpellier were all called upon. We were talking about a salary of €1million, that represented ten per cent of our payroll. We made the choice not to go any further.”
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Unlike in England, where the reintroduction of fans into stadiums has been paused by government concerns over rising Covid-19 cases, La Defense Arena in Paris will host 5,000 spectators on Saturday. Lorenzetti, though, doesn’t foresee rugby ever getting back to normal attendances unless a vaccine is found. “We are complying with the legislation: 5,000,” he said.
“We are currently seeing a worrying phenomenon for the entertainment world: the climate is anxiety-provoking, people are afraid to go out and go to matches… I see only one way out, the vaccine. I hope it will arrive soon to calm the body and the mind.”
With rugby’s finances under pressure around the world due to the ongoing pandemic, there has been speculation in recently in France that an investment fund named Novalpina could inject upwards of €200m into the sport. Lorenzetti, however, isn’t sold on this particular group becoming involved, instead suggesting CVC are the investors who might be best suited to a French rugby buy-in.
“There were hints on the part of Novalpina,” he said. “We will listen to everyone but today, there is an action carried out in rugby by a serious company, which manages €100billion and is called CVC.
“This investment fund has shares in the championship of England, the Celtic League and the deal with the Six Nations tournament is almost concluded. I’m not saying that it is with them that we must deal but CVC already has a good lead.”
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