CASTRES, FRANCE – All Black Dan Carter will become world’s highest paid rugby player when he joins Top 14 side Racing Metro after next year’s World Cup.
The player finally confirmed as true the worst-kept and most pointless secret in rugby at a press conference in Auckland on Thursday, bringing to an end days of frenzied media speculation during which club officials and the players’ representatives kept their mouths firmly closed.
They merely trotted out the standard “this club does not comment on rumours” line, which only succeeded in sending fuelling the pundits’ fire.
The most prolific points scorer in rugby history, who will be 33 when he dons the famous hooped shirt in anger for the first time, has signed a three-year deal with the ambitious ciel-et-bleu that – depending on who you believe – is worth anywhere between 1.2million ($1.5m) and 1.8million ($2.2m) euro a year.
Most media outlets have split the difference and speculated that he’ll get about 1.5million euro ($1.85m).
“It’s going to be an awesome adventure for me and my family,” Carter told the press in New Zealand. “I know what the French culture and their rugby culture is like and it’s something I really love.”
In case anyone missed his conference, Carter also tweeted:
Sad to think 2015 will be my last year playing in NZ but excited to announce my move to @RacingMetro92 next December
— Dan Carter (@DanCarter) December 18, 2014
And club president Jacky Lorenzetti revealed his delight at winning the race for the most expensive signature in rugby at a Paris press conference later the same day. He told the French media: “Dan Carter is to rugby what Federer is to tennis and Messi to soccer. For me he is the best player in the world.”
In sporting terms, these are relatively small sums, but Carter is set to break an important financial barrier in rugby. It’s also set to test the book-balancing skills of Racing’s accountants, as they try to squeeze the man’s quart-sized paycheck into the pint pot of a 10.5million euro ($13m) annual squad salary cap.
Earlier this week, Toulon president and Lorenzetti-baiter-in-chief Mourad Boudjellal had claimed that any Top 14 club prepared to pay so dearly for Carter’s services would be – ahem – testing the limits of the Ligue National de Rugby’s salary cap.
Boudjellal’s comments were the latest salvo in a war of words between the two club presidents. Earlier this season, it was reported that Racing were ready to tempt Matt Giteau from Toulon by offering him rugby’s first 1million-a-year contract, but the Australian instead decided to extend his stay in the Var.
Let’s take a moment to put that figure into some sort of perspective. His High and Mighty Imperial Supremeness Lord Sir Jonny of Wilkinson earned 750,000 euro a year at Toulon, while Carter’s All Blacks captain Richie McCaw is on NZ$1million a year (or 620,000 euro, give or take).
Away from the drama in the two press rooms on the other side of the world, Top 14 clubs have been getting ready for a return to domestic action after two weeks of varying success in European competitions.
Well, mostly. In Toulouse, the boardroom carpet has been stained with blood as a behind-the-scenes power struggle over who will replace powerhouse president René Bouscatel when he steps down – in 2017 – turns ugly.
For as long as most people would care to remember, director of rugby Guy Noves was seen as his mentor’s natural successor. Bouscatel has even in the past described himself as a “fervent supporter” of the gnomic Noves.
French national newspaper Le Figaro, however, has now reported that Bouscatel’s allegiance to Noves has wavered and he now favours ex-Toulouse player Didier Lacroix, who – in partnership with fellow former player Franck Belot – runs a company that brings in a sizeable chunk of the club’s sponsorship money.
On Tuesday, as the rugby world went slightly mad over Carter’s then-rumoured move to Racing, president of the Stade Toulousain-centric Société Anonyme Sportive Professionnelle (SASP) Eugène Passerat quit, after lodging a legal complaint of ‘abuse of power’ by unnamed persons ‘at the heart of the club’.
Passerat was – and still is – strongly anti-Lacroix, and has a number of allies in influential circles. It seems the cold war of succession in Toulouse is heating up.
And it’s affecting the players. Vincent Clerc – Noves’ son-in-law – and flanker Grégory Lamboley own a rival company to the one that deals with sponsorship matters at Toulouse. It was forced to issue a powerful rebuttal to claims in Le Figaro that it had been politicking in order benefit from Noves’ elevation to the club’s big chair.
It has also been claimed that Bouscatel’s change of heart slowed down contract negotiations with Thierry Dusautoir and Yannick Nyanga – though not, apparently, Clerc’s…
It may go some way to explaining what may have been going on when Toulouse were on their worst run in 50 years earlier this season. It certainly makes their return to form – that has seen them win eight of their last nine games in both the Top 14 and Champions Cup – even more impressive.
Actually, it’s probably fair to make that nine wins in their last 10, even though they’re on the road this week. You see, they’re at Montpellier whose own backroom woes have translated into seven straight defeats, and a fall from grace from the higher echelons of the Top 14 to seventh.
Bordeaux this week announced that Australian international Adam Ashley-Cooper had signed on the dotted line of a two-year deal to start after the World Cup.
But, there are more pressing matters to attend to for Raphael Ibanez’s side – namely a trip down the west coast of France to Top 14 near-neighbours Bayonne. The visitors have a good record at Stade Jean Dauger. Given the home side’s desultory home form – two Top 14 defeats and another last week in the European Challenge Cup – it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that free-scoring Bordeaux will head home with another four points under their belt.
The only two Top 14 sides still undefeated at home – Grenoble and Stade Francais – meet at Stade des Alpes in the weekend’s opening fixture.
The hosts’ resolve will be tested. They will take to the pitch without regular starters Fabien Gengenbacher, Charl McLeod, Albertus Buckle or Paul Willemse. Stade, on the other hand, could feature a long-absent team member. Antoine Burban has played only 91 minutes of rugby this season, but was named in the squad to travel to east to the icy foothills of the French Alps.
The visitors have also picked up two wins on the road, so expect this one to be a dinger of hum proportions.
If the match between Brive and Oyonnax seems oddly familiar, it’s because this will be the third meeting of the two Top14 sides in as many weeks. Christophe Urios’s Oyonnax have the upper hand, having won the two European Challenge Cup encounters.
Those two European wins mean that the Rugby Wrap Up favourites come into this match on a five-game winning streak – including two on the road. It looks like it could be a tough day at the office for Brive, but this one will be close.
One man who’ll be paying particular attention to Oyonnax’s fortunes from now on will be Lyon forwards coach Olivier Azam. The former French international hooker was this week named as Urios’s successor as director of rugby at the little club from the plastics city.
His current side have one of the toughest jobs of the weekend… trying to keep the scoreline decent as they head to Toulon, proud holders of the best attack in the Top 14, and who have scored almost as many points at home (230) as the visitors have in all domestic matches (232).
The whole of rugby history is against Lyon. They have never won in Toulon, and their best result – a 3-3 draw – was way back in the 1950/51 season. If you’re a Lyon fan, the best advice anyone can offer is look away now. And keep your eyes averted and ears covered until January when the wounds have healed and the screams have faded away, when all this won’t seem quite so bad. Probably.
At least Lyon won’t be alone. Fellow Top 14 new boys La Rochelle, too, are in for a long 80 minutes. They’re at Racing Metro, whose recent six-wins-in-seven-matches doesn’t bode well for the side with the leakiest defence in the French top flight.
Expect the ambitious and big-spending ciel-et-bleu to pick up another useful win.
At first glance, Clermont v Castres, second against 14th, seems a foregone conclusion – particularly given the home side’s record at Stade Marcel Michelin. The struggling Tarn side, however, may just have the wood on their high-flying opponents. But they have to do something they have not managed since May – win away from Stade Pierre Antoine.
Ironically, Castres last victory away from home was at Marcel Michelin, when they ended Clermont’s astonishing 79-match winning home run in the Top 14 play-off quarter-finals.
That said, overturning this Clermont side, in this mood having beaten Munster twice in two matches, is likely to be way too hard for the 2013 Top 14 champions, who have haven’t even flattered to deceive in recent weeks.
That’s it for now… Feel free to add your thoughts below, please look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@ :RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Jamie Wall, Jaime Loyd, DJ Eberle, Cody Kuxmann, Karen Ritter, Scheenagh Harrington, Jake Frechette and Declan Yeats, respectively.