Some of French rugby’s leading agents have warned the big spending power of the Top 14 clubs in attracting global superstars is over as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic.
The likes of Rugby World Cup winners Handre Pollard, Eben Etzebeth and Cheslin Kolbe have contracts with sides in the league, following in the footsteps of a roll call of names such as Dan Carter, Jonny Wilkinson and Matt Giteau.
Numerous leading unions including New Zealand and South Africa have announced significant pay cuts for their players but the impact of COVID-19 has restricted France’s clubs from adding to their squads.
“The bubble is bursting. Right now, the clubs are taking notice of the reality. They’re living outside of their means,” Damien Dussault, who represents Fiji’s Olympic gold medallist Semi Kunatani, said.
“On the market for players, the discussions don’t ever really stop. They are slow right now because some teams don’t know their budgets, some don’t know when they’ll restart playing,” he added.
South Africa Rugby said in May their players would lose up to 43 percent of their income, and they allowed individuals to look for contracts abroad.
Two weeks ago Springboks’ World Player of the Year Pieter-Steph du Toit was linked with Montpellier in a 3.7 million euro ($4.03 million) three-year deal.
The billionaire-backed side denied the reports and the loose forward signed a one-season contract extension with the Stormers.
“I’m interested in Du Toit. But until now I haven’t had any contact with him. And right now the moment isn’t right to talk about recruitment,” owner Mohed Altrad told newspaper Midi Olympique last week.
Du Toit’s fellow World Cup winners in Boks captain Siya Kolisi, props Frans Malherbe and Steven Kitshoff as well as Makazole Mapimpi and Lukhanyo Am were offered to French outfits but to no avail.
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Despite a hefty salary cap of 11.3 million euros, a reduction in ticket sale income from last season, a potential loss of sponsors and general uncertainty have hampered possible moves.
“There are quite a lot of players but right now the clubs haven’t got the space in the budget or in the salary cap,” agent Laurent Quaglia said.
“There are deals which could be done but aren’t done because of the health situation. All the deals that have been announced were signed a long time ago,” Quaglia, who helped bring Australia’s Kurtley Beale to Racing 92, added.
Stade Francais, who had the competition’s biggest budget, 40 millions euros last term, have kept their business to a minimum for the coming campaign having signed Argentina pair Nicolas Sanchez and Pablo Matera last year.
“Transfers, recruitment are pretty much at a stop, when normally it’s all finished by now,” the Paris-based club’s general manager Thomas Lombard told us earlier this month.
“We’re not in absolute emergency, but we need clarity on things.”