Billionaire-bankrolled Top 14 giants Montpellier are working to prise France captain Guilhem Guirado from Toulon after next year’s Rugby World Cup, reports in France say.

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Guirado, who missed the June tour of New Zealand after being rested by national coach Jacques Brunel in the summer, is in the final year of his current contract with the three-time European champions, after joining the club from Perpignan when they were relegated in 2014.

It is expected that next year’s tournament in Japan will be the 32-year-old hooker’s international swansong – and Montpellier’s owner Mohed Altrad appears to be hoping that it will also prompt him to switch clubs for a second time.

The rumours on Guirado’s future at Toulon started swirling after early contract talks with officials at the club reached no definitive conclusion, according to twice-weekly rugby newspaper Midi Olympique.

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The paper claims that Montpellier are determined to tempt the 60-cap French international to the GGL Stadium, even though South Africa’s 74-cap international Bismarck du Plessis has a contract with the club through to June 2020.

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Guirado, who hails from Céret, in the southwestern department of Pyrénées-Orientales, which neighbours the Hérault, of which Montpellier is the capital, is expected to receive an offer ‘commensurate with his international status’, Midi Olympique said.

His arrival ‘would send a strong signal on the market, both in sporting and symbolic terms’ the paper said, suggesting it could indicate a – partly rule-oriented – shift away from the club’s apparent reliance on South African players.

Under increasingly strict player quota regulations, an average of 15 players in a Top 14 club’s matchday squad of 23 must be qualified to play for France. While Montpellier has consistently hit the required mark, the number of imported players – notably those from South Africa – has regularly been commented on in France.

As the rules get tighter, and the punishments for failing to maintain the required average more severe, the premium on France qualified players is set to go through the roof. And one of Guirado’s standing will be one of the highest-valued players on the market.

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It may well be time for him to cash in.

Altrad has form when it comes to splashing the cash in his continuing search for silverware.

In 2017, he paid English Premiership side Northampton €1million to bring Louis Picamoles back to France. Earlier in 2018, he stumped up a reported €1.4million to get Johan Goosen off the books at Racing 92 and end his two-year ‘retirement’ from rugby. And he has made young flanker Yacuba Camara one of the highest paid homegrown players in France.

Meanwhile, English papers have reported that a number of Top 14 clubs may be chasing the signature of a certain Maro Itoje.

So, Midi Olympique asked Montpellier’s Mohed Altrad the obvious question. And he gave the obvious non-response: “It depends on the opinion of our coach Vern Cotter, but we would be interested because he is a very high level player.”

Read into that what you will.

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