Top 14 giants Toulon are engaged in a tug-of-war with Italian Pro 14 outfit Zebre over a player they signed as a replacement for Leigh Halfpenny.
The club contracted young Italian international Edoardo Padovani in June to replenish their fullback stocks, depleted following the end-of-season departures of the Wales and Lions star and Australian Drew Mitchell.
Padovani was originally named in the first Toulon teamsheet of new director of rugby Fabien Galthie for the match against a Pumas Development XV during the club’s brief pre-season tour of Argentina – but was replaced at the last minute by another new arrival, Hugo Bonneval from Stade Francais.
While Bonneval is set to take the bulk of the workload at 15 this season, the 24-year-old Venetian, who can also slot in at fly-half or centre, was seen as an ideal understudy – with ex-Melbourne Rebels youngster Jonah Placid completing the club’s positional roster.
Padovani agreed terms with the Top 14 side when Zebre looked certain to go out of business – and long before the Italian Rugby Federation (FIR) agreed terms to take over the struggling Parma-based club.
The club’s future had been in doubt for months prior to the Federation’s intervention in July, with former owner Stefano Pagliarini stating in January that it would require an injection of €1million to see out the 2016/17 season.
Following the FIR takeover of Zebre, however, the union’s president Alfredo Gavazzi has declared Padovani’s move ‘illegal’ because the player still has a year to run on his contract in Italy – and he says it must be honoured following the 11th-hour rescue.
He said no release documents have been signed, which means Padovani was not a free agent at the time he put pen to paper on the deal with Toulon.
“Padovani must respect his contract,” Gavazzi told Italian media, and promised that he would take the case all the way to arbitration at World Rugby if necessary.
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