22 Feb 2019

Savea saga shows the grass isn’t always greener

6:14 pm on 22 February 2019

Opinion - Getting chewed out by your boss is no fun at all. Having it done all over the international media is about as bad as it gets. So spare a thought for Julian Savea, he didn't deserve the sort of nonsense that Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal has leveled at him this week - no matter how badly he might have been playing.

Former All Black winder Julian Savea playing for Toulon

Former All Black winder Julian Savea playing for Toulon Photo: Photosport

But maybe now after a few days of letting everything settle somewhat, we can have a decent look at the Savea situation and what it might mean for New Zealand rugby players going forward.

First thing's first, though - Savea hasn't actually been fired. All this talk of him leaving Toulon immediately is pretty premature, if Boudjellal does want him gone he'll have to pay out his hefty contract.

Secondly - while Savea's form apparently hasn't been great, this says more about Boudjellal's scouting ability than anything else.

He complained that Savea wasn't the same player he was when he destroyed France in the 2015 Rugby World Cup quarter final. Anyone who watched the Hurricanes in the seasons since could've told Boudjellal that for free. A phone call to former coach Chris Boyd, who dropped Savea for the duration of the 2016 finals, would've been a good start.

Boudjellal has had a reputation of being, let's say, irrational. Some of that can be put down to cultural differences, but an awful lot more to the fact that he's a very rich guy who probably didn't get that way without stepping on a few toes along the way.

For NZ Rugby though, it couldn't have come at a better time. It's probably not the sort of situation they want their former players to be in, and it's safe to say they harbour no ill-will towards Savea, but they would be welcoming of anything that may show cashing up and going overseas (especially France) in a bad light.

While it's inevitable that senior players will leave and play out the ends of their careers, at least now this case can be used as a scare tactic to make fringe players think twice about what they're getting themselves into.

One of the things that has been suggested to remedy the problem of players leaving is to privatise our own professional franchises here in New Zealand. It clearly has its inherent dangers, but something like Boudjellal's outburst would never happen here, right?

Well, if the Warriors are anything to go by, it might not be as far fetched as you might think. It was only last year that Sir Owen Glenn and Eric Watson had a very public falling out over a few things including the ownership of the club, which is something only very wealthy men would ever think is a particularly good idea to do.

Then came the mysteriously unsuccessful American takeover bid, that ended with the club's off-field future looking extremely uncertain on the eve of a new season.

While neither of these were quite as dramatic and headline-worthy as mad Mourad Boudjellal's outburst, it does show that once you hand the reins over to someone with an ego, it may well turn the running of a team into a story in itself.

In all honesty, it's stupid, boring and takes away a massive amount of enjoyment of following a team. Knowing just who is pulling the strings and how is something most fans could do without.

For Julian Savea, though, there is at least the fact that this is by no means the first time this has happened.

In 2016, Boudjellal had a go at Ma'a Nonu and Quade Cooper for perceived poor showings for Toulon. Nonu ended up playing out his contract, while Cooper had an escape clause that let him leave at the end of that season. Neither was ever in any danger of suddenly falling through a trapdoor in the floor after the owner's rants, so Savea can probably just concentrate on playing better rugby and earning back Boudjellal's favour.

That is, of course, if he wants to.

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