Savea saga sad, but expected - Bidwell

1:37 pm on 18 February 2019

Opinion - We've all suffered a bit of buyer's remorse.

Julian Savea playing for Toulon. 18.2.19

Julian Savea playing for Toulon. Photo: AFP

What looked so good on the advertisement or in its bright, shiny packaging, suddenly seems a waste of money once you get it home.

Combustible Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal knows the feeling. Not always a man for niceties, the comic-book publisher hasn't been too pleased with a recent player purchase.

In an interview on French radio, Boudjellal said former All Blacks and Hurricanes wing Julian Savea had not lived up to expectations and was "no longer welcome at Toulon.''

Savea is a few months into a two-year deal with the Top 14 club, but has been given some pretty pointed advice from the owner: "If I were him I would apologise and go back to my home country,'' Boudjellal told RMC radio.

It's Boudjellal's club and he's entitled to his view. As ignorant as it is.

You assume Boudjellal thought he was buying the Julian Savea who scored a hat-trick of tries against France in a 2015 Rugby World Cup quarterfinal.

Only that man hasn't been sighted since, as anyone with just a passing interest in Super Rugby would know.

"I'm going to ask for a DNA test. They must have swapped him on the plane [from New Zealand],'' said Boudjellal, going on to add that Savea must have an identical twin brother responsible for those great rugby deeds of old.

He's told Savea he is released from the final year of his contract and he can go and "do what he wants.''

Toulon rugby owner Mourad Boudjellal.

Toulon rugby owner Mourad Boudjellal. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

They're not kind words and Savea and his family are entitled to feel hurt by them. That, however, is how things roll in the real world of professional sport.

The money might not be as big here, but New Zealand Rugby don't call players out in public. Instead they're pampered and put on a pedestal and rarely informed of their failings, for fear they'll disappear overseas.

Now, having taken the French route, Savea's options are few.

He's 28 and, as clubs in Europe will have noted, isn't the player he was.

That's not uncommon for outside backs. Savea didn't go to France without first exhausting his options here and the All Blacks and Hurricanes both worked hard to help him recapture the form of his early 20s.

Essentially, though, Savea's strength was freakish athleticism and once that waned there wasn't a lot to fall back on.

There's always a chance some similarly eccentric club owner in Europe will emulate Boudjellal and sign him to a crazy deal but you assume, if Savea wants to continue playing rugby and earning a high wage, that Japan might be his next destination.

As far as New Zealand goes, Savea's kind of priced himself out of the market. Prior to the 2015 world cup, he signed a four-year contract extension with NZR said to be in the vicinity of $800,000 a season. And, at the time, he was worth every cent.

Nehe Milner-Skudder playing for the Maori All Blacks against the British and Irish Lions in Rotorua last year.

Nehe Milner-Skudder is heading to Toulon at the end of this season. Photo: Photosport

A genuine box-office talent, with a phenomenal try-scoring record and a winning smile, Savea was a sensation. But $800,000 is elite All Black money, not what you pay to someone who's no longer guaranteed a start for their Super Rugby side each week.

For the Hurricanes, having such a big name, on such a big contract, struggle for form - and sometimes fitness - seemed quite a strain and you doubt any other New Zealand franchises would take a chance on him now. Even at a heavily-discounted price, that looks like quite a punt.

Nehe Milner-Skudder is the next Hurricanes and All Blacks wing bound for Toulon. He's signed a three-year deal, set to commence at the end of this Super Rugby season.

Serious shoulder injuries have cruelly limited his game time since starring, alongside Savea, at that same world cup and you wonder if Toulon really know what they're getting this time either.

Fingers crossed Boudjellal likes this new toy better than the last one.