Battling South African side the Southern Kings are reportedly in the hunt for the signature of Toulon wing and ex-All Blacks star Julian Savea as they look to improve their results in the European Pro14.
The unexpected transfer proposal, which was reported by Afrikaans outlet Rapport, comes in the wake of a poor run of form from Savea for the French club, which has led to intense public criticism from club owner Mourad Boudjellal and Toulon fans.
Savea has endured a tumultuous stay in the south of France since joining Toulon last year, with Boudjellal telling RMC in February that he would “ask for a DNA test” after a string of underwhelming performances from the 28-year-old, who scored 46 tries in 54 tests for the All Blacks.
“They must have swapped him on the plane [when he joined from the Hurricanes last year]. If I were him I would apologise and go back to my home country,” Boudjellal said.
“I’ve told him that he was free to go and wasn’t welcome at Toulon any more.”
While Savea took the criticism in his stride, both he, his wife, Fatima, and daughter Jude have since been the target of online abuse from Toulon fans, with Fatima publicly fearing for the wellbeing of her family.
“Who would have thought that I’d feel like my life and my daughter’s life might be at risk going back to Toulon with the amount of threats and hateful messages I have received from angry fans,” she wrote on Twitter.
After a five-week spell on the sideline following an axing from the side after a 19-10 loss to Agen on February 17, Savea returned to the team as a second-five in Toulon’s 42-33 loss to Lyon last month.
Joining Savea on the Kings’ wish list is former Springboks forward Jacques Potgieter, who played for the Eastern Province side in the Currie Cup between 2009 and 2011.
Potgieter, who also plays for Toulon, has been struggling for game time since his arrival from the Munakata Sanix Blues in the Japanese Top League during the off-season.
It is understood negotiations between the Kings and Toulon for the duo have been underway since the start of the weekend, around the same time of the announcement of an historic partnership between the two clubs, with a massive turnover of players expected to ensue should the transfers ensue.
According to Rapport, the Kings would have to release at least 20 contracted players to make room for both Savea and Potgieter financially, with Savea alone earning around NZ$1.65 million per season on a two-year deal in France.
Securing the services of either player would be a significant statement of intent from the Kings under new high-performance director Robbie Kempson, as the club have won just three matches from 40 outings since joining the Pro14 from Super Rugby after getting booted from the southern hemisphere competition at the end of the 2017 season.
View this post on Instagram
Reports from South Africa suggest that Pro14's Southern Kings are interested in signing Julian Savea in a release deal with Toulon but would have to release up to 20 players to fit him on the books. ?@isuzusouthernkings @pro14official #pro14 #rugby #southernkings #sarugby #toulon #rctoulon #stademayol #top14 #francerugby
Under the newly-formed partnership, the Kings and Toulon will be allowed to share resources, youth academy facilities, an exchange programme for coaches and players, venture into joint commercial opportunities, and play fixtures between each other.
The partnership comes just after a month after a group called The Greatest Rugby Company in the Whole Wide World (Pty) Ltd (GRC) purchased a 74 percent shareholding from South African Rugby to take majority ownership of the Kings, making the Port Elizabeth-based franchise South Africa’s first privately-owned professional side.
The Eastern Province Rugby Union acquired the remaining 26 percent of shares.
In other news:
Sign up to our mailing list here and we’ll keep you up to the minute with weekly updates from the world of rugby.