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Harrington column: Mourad Boudjellal ready to pack his bags at Toulon

Mourad Boudjellal

Reports from France that Toulon’s headline-grabbing owner Mourad Boudjellal could offload his controlling stake in the club as soon as tomorrow should come as little surprise.

The comic book magnate issued a provisional five-year exit-plan timetable last year, after medical millionaire Bernard LeMaitre, 80, who is thought to be ready to take a majority share of the club, bought 44 per cent of the club.

LeMaitre’s financial investment prompted a long-promised change in direction, with Toulon looking increasingly to local talent to lead future domestic and European title challenges, rather than high-price ‘galacticos’.

With new arrival Eben Etzebeth set to start training tomorrow, there’s still room for big names despite the change in direction – yesterday a heavily French Toulon, with Baptiste Serin and Louis Carbonel directing from 9 and 10 in a Pau mud bath, won 19-9.

Earlier, Semi Radradra showed Bordeaux what they will be missing, and what Bristol will be gaining next season, with a double try-scoring performance against Racing 92.

News of his departure hasn’t necessarily gone down well at the club. Strongman coach Christophe Urios told regional newspaper Sud Ouest after the news broke that ‘no one is irreplaceable’, but Radradra seemed determined to prove him wrong at La Defense Arena.

He scored twice, supplied the final pass for Cameron Woki to finish a thrilling 80m 13-player move, and ran lines that gave Racing’s defence the vapours. He even found time to spend ten minutes in the sin bin for a no-arms tackle on Juan Imhoff in a thoroughly entertaining 34-30 win that consolidates their second place.

The writing about Radradra has been on the wall at Bordeaux for some time. Club owner Laurent Marti has previously spoken of the financial limitations he has compared to other Top 14 bosses. He told reporters recently he could not compete if another club dangled a mega-money offer in front of his star player. And so it proved. The only question was which club had the budget, so it was always going to be a small number of English or French outfits. In the end, Bristol came in with a marquee price for a marquee player.

The news nevertheless prompted a number of salary cap questions, which were determinedly batted away by Pat Lam, who in a couple of sentences concisely described the Moneyball building of Bristol.

Speaking of salary caps, Montpellier have been in court almost as much as they have been on the pitch in recent weeks.

Ten days ago, they successfully appealed against a €400,000 fine imposed by breaching French salary cap regulations. It was the second time in two seasons that they had successfully overturned such a sanction – for the same reasons.

Then, on Monday, they headed to France’s highest administrative court in a bid to have the salary cap rules annulled altogether. It seems they will be unsuccessful. The court’s rapporteur has recommended the case does not even make it into the judges’ inbox. While these recommendations can be ignored they usually are not, so the Top 14’s €11.3m limit looks likely to remain for the foreseeable future.

JAMES HARRINGTON

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