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Toulon president: Players like Etzebeth a 'clear handicap' for club

By Ian Cameron
Eben Etzebeth

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Toulon president Bernard Lemaître has suggested that high profile players like Eben Etzebeth are a ‘handicap’ for the club, owing to how much they cost and the fact that they are often taken away for international duty.

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Etzebeth is currently taking a medical break from rugby – in line with League Nationale de Rugby (LNR) protocols – after suffering a third concussion within a year, playing against England in the Autumn Nations Series.

The giant Springbok is yet to play for Toulon this season and could be unavailable for selection for the Top 14 side until February as a result.

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As one of the club’s most expensive players, it represents a major blow for their 2021/22 ambitions, but it’s not what irks Lamitre.

The 83-year-old told Var Martin in France that international sides should be forced compensate private clubs for the use of their players during international windows and players like Etzebeth and Los Pumas’ Facundo Isa can be problems for club like his.

“There is a double problem in recruiting: the Salary Cap and the JIFFs. You can’t do just anything, so I pay special attention to the situation of internationals because they can be an opportunity or a handicap. In this case, players like Eben Etzebeth and Facundo Isa are a clear handicap for the club.

“The policy of the XV of France is very clear and we know that some players like Gros or Villière will be called up regularly. While for foreigners it is different. I spoke with Bernard Laporte who agrees with me: the League should work with World Rugby to prevent foreign countries from coming to the Top 14 supermarket to take the players they need for their selection.

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“Or, if they do, there should be some compensation. These players get paid, cost the club full, and are used by someone else. This, even at the level of labor law, does not exist. There is a problem to be resolved.”

In England the RFU currently compensate Gallagher Premiership clubs as part of a wide ranging, multi-year agreement with Gallagher Premiership clubs. However in France, players from overseas are entitled to play for their national side should they be called up – with no compensation.

Some Top 14 clubs come to behind closed door arrangements with players, a phenomenon which goes against World Rugby’s stance on player availability.

In early 2021, the LNR rowed in behind a World Rugby decision to back maintaining twin international windows in July and November. “World Rugby today communicated on the principles guiding further work on the evolution of international competition formats from 2024. This communication indicates that the changes likely to be made will be part of the framework of the current calendar structure which foresees two “international windows” in July and November.

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“The National Rugby League welcomes this announcement, and wishes to get involved fully and collaborate constructively in the pursuit of this work, with the shared objective of strengthening the promotion of international competitions while respecting a balance with club competitions.”

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