Mourad Boujellal has given his verdict on his favourite signing during his tenure as Top 14 outfit Toulon.
The long-serving owner announced that he will be leaving the role come the end of the summer with Bernard Lemaitre coming in.
When he took over the club were in the French second-division, but they have since gone on to not only be promoted but have asserted themselves as one of the top teams in Europe winning both the Top 14 and the Champions Cup in recent years.
His teams have been helped by a certain amount of star power which has included the likes of Jonny Wilkinson, Tana Umaga, Freddy Michalak and Bryan Habana, and he has named his favourite signing of the bunch.
“Everyone will say Jonny Wilkinson but I’m with Tana Umaga. At that time, I was a young president who knew nothing about rugby. This does not mean that I understand this game better now, but I have become an old president. I wanted to do something incredible, something unreal. The magic was that Umaga came as a freelance in Pro D2. And the transplant took – he stayed more than three years and remains an icon. I am also proud to have listened to Umaga and followed my instinct. He told me, ‘There is a player at XIIIs who has all the qualities to become a world star at XVs’. I did not know him and I signed him. The guy was Sonny Bill Williams. It was still listening to my intuition that I hired Wilkinson, Juan Smith, Bryan Habana or Frederic Michalak… I loved following this kind of file,” he said while speaking to French news outlet Midi Olympique.
With him stepping aside many are wondering what he will do next and there are reports of him being a contender for the presidential position in the French League, and he has mixed views on the potential role.
“There is a certain fatigue that has set in with the battle against the regulations. I became more of a lawyer than a club president. When I took over the RCT, my goal was to make dreams in a city whose DNA is rugby. I wanted to hear Mayol’s cathedral vibrate again. If I’m a candidate, I want to be credible. And to be you have to have a coherent programme. If I have one that meets the needs of the professionals, I’ll go. I am aware of being a very divisive character. Will people vote for a person or a programme? If I’m a candidate, in my wardrobe there will be a drawer for each club designed to create collective wealth. Today, the League is plagued by the philosophy of Limoges, according to which money kills the sport,” he said.
His presidency of Toulon is not set to run out until 2023 but as mentioned above he is expected to depart next summer, but he may stay on and have a role with the club for the future.
Whatever happens his time in Toulon will be remembered fondly by the locals as he has helped them become a rugby powerhouse.
Zebo Expected to Extend French Stay
Simon Zebo appears set to continue his stay in France according to reports
The 30-year-old has been at Racing for two seasons and has a clause to extend his time there to a third season if activated.
Having impressed last season, the former Munsterman has had an injury-hit campaign this time around through concussion and breaking his foot, before the domestic and European season were suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak.
However, when he has managed to play this season he has caught the eye and it is thought that the French giants are keen for him to put pen to paper on a new deal too.
That would see the Cork native remain unable to add to his 35-caps for Ireland due to the overseas rules held by the IRFU, while it would also see him face a further challenge for minutes on the pitch with Wallaby ace Kurtley Beale appearing likely to join Racing in the summer.
While a third-year in Paris seems set to be in Zebo’s short-term future, in the long-term it is unknown where he will end up, but admitted while speaking to Off the Ball yesterday that he would only return to Ireland to play for former side Munster.
French Giants Eying Deal for Beale
Kurtley Beale could be set to leave the Waratahs for Europe this summer according to reports
The 31-year-old has been key to the Super Rugby franchise and it would be a major blow to lose a player of his quality ahead of next season.
However, despite the potential move across to Europe and Racing it would have no effect on his standing in the international set-up as he currently has 92-caps for the Wallabies to his name putting him well ahead of the 60 needed to be selected by an overseas player.
With new head coach Dave Rennie coming in during the summer to take over from Michael Cheika it is unknown whether or not Beale will remain an integral part of the team.
He was vital during Australia’s Rugby World Cup campaign last year and with his versatility he will hope that Rennie sees him as an asset to his side.
Although he is not the only Wallaby that is being reported to leave Super Rugby with Melbourne Rebels pair Matt Philip and Luke Jones also set to depart for France according to Fox Sport, with Pau their likely destination.
All of these potential moves would be problematic for the Australian-based Super Rugby sides, who are struggling as it is and without star men sticking around the future looks bleak.
Skelton Set for Summer Move from Saracens
Australian second-row ace Will Skelton looks set for a move away from Saracens this summer, but Rugby Australia won’t be happy with his choice of destination according to reports
The giant second-row has been a target for Rugby Australia since before last year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan, but he decided to remain in England with Saracens ruling him out of contention to feature for the Wallabies due to their overseas laws.
However, they took another shot at getting his signature once Saracens salary cap scandal unfolded, believing it was the perfect opportunity to bring him home.
Talks took place with the 27-year-old but reports in France are now claiming that a deal with French Top 14 side La Rochelle will be confirmed shortly.
It would be another big-money move for the lock, but once more he would be unable to represent his country as he falls well short of the 60-caps needed for an overseas player to be eligible to be called-up.
Failing to tie-down a star name like Skelton again would be a major blow for Rugby Australia and may cause them to consider altering their current rules around the Giteau Law as they are missing out on being able to select some of their best players because of it.