Habana, Botha & Lobbe Told: ”Return To Toulon Or We Won’t Pay You Any More”
First Leigh Halfpenny… next Toulon President Mourad Boudjellal has Bryan Habana, Bakkies Botha and Juan Fernandez Lobbe in his sights.
The outspoken President of the money-laden French aristocrats, is demanding the immediate return from Test duty of Halfpenny’s Toulon team-mates or is threatening court action which could change the face of world rugby.
The star-studded trio are playing for their countries in the Rugby Championship, but Boudjellal is warning that unless they return to France by the end of the week he will stop paying their lucrative wages.
Lethal finisher Habana and lock enforcer Botha are away with South Africa and back-row star Lobbe is in camp with Argentina. The Rugby Championship does not finish until next month.
However, Boudjellal has reacted to the European and French champions’ 28-24 home defeat against Stade Francais and a club injury crisis by saying he pays the wages of Habana, Botha and Lobbe and he wants them playing for Toulon.
The Rugby Championship is sanctioned by the IRB, which means clubs have to release players who are selected by their countries.
But Boudjellal will challenge that policy and demand clubs only be forced to release players if the IRB or individual unions foot the bill for those away on international duty.
He challenged the IRB to a court fight in what would effectively be a test case and could yet have major repercussions for many test sides.
Boudjellal defended his hard-line stance by stating of Habana, Botha and Lobbe: “There is something that is quite simple – they defend the colours of their country and are paid rather comfortably by Toulon.
“The IRB decided the rules. That’s fine but I’m not here to fund South African and Argentine rugby and I will not.
“These players will return as we need them. If they do not and we receive no fee, they will not be paid by us because they will not be present in Toulon.”
Arguing French law usurped IRB regulations, he continued: “We’ll see if the rules of the IRB prevail or if it is the rules of the Labour Code for French private enterprise. In any case, it is an aberration.
“We have reached a stage where we have to ask the opinion of the French law. Therefore, we will ask the French judges whether a foreign federation has the right to take my employees and force me to pay them.
“It’s just unthinkable we have players who are paid very well by us but cannot not play them. Moreover, I have to pay the players replacing them. This is a double sanction.”
The IRB doesn’t work a formal compensation system – it leaves it up to individual unions to take a stance on the thorny matter.
Aviva Premiership clubs, for example, are paid handsomely by the RFU for England squad members but do not receive anything for other nationalities.
If Boudjellal carries out his threat to go to court and wins, it could have crippling ramifications for unions around the world and decimate countries like Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, who couldn’t afford to pay for the release of their overseas-based best players.