By Gavin Mortimer
COMPARED TO the chill winds that have been blowing through Leicester of late, Toulon on Sunday will feel positively balmy for the English club. Spring has been slow in showing its face even on the Cote D’Azur but temperatures of 15 degrees make a mockery of the sub-zero conditions in England. But the Tigers can expect the mercury to rise on Sunday evening when they emerge at the Stade Mayol to take on Toulon in their eagerly-awaited Heineken Cup quarter-final.
Mourad Boudjellal, the club president who is fiery at the best of times, has called on the Toulon faithful to make an “explosion” of noise so that “England discover the hell of Mayol.” The parochial nature inherent in the French game means most club presidents view the Heineken Cup as less prestigious than the Top 14 – but not Boudjellal. He knows its value, and he is desperate for Toulon to become only the third French club (behind Toulouse and Brive) to win the tournament.
But there’s another reason Boudjellal hopes the Tigers roast in Hades on Sunday. According to Monday’s edition of Midi Olympique, the Toulon president is “very irritated” with Leicester over the on-off transfer of Leicester prop Martin Castrogiovanni. The Italian prop was first linked with a move to Toulon before Christmas, and it still seemed a done deal just a few weeks ago, at least for Castrogiovanni who was said to have reached agreement with Boudjellal.
But Leicester have allegedly been playing hardball with Toulon over the terms of the transfer. If they’re to see one of the world’s best tightheads walk away they expect something in return. Midi Olympique claims the Tigers have demanded 180,000 euros, of which 60,000 will come from the pocket of Castrogiovanni. The response of Boudjellal? “Leicester are asking for too much money. They have seen Toulon as if it were a piggy bank, certainly to the detriment of the will of their player.”
Informed by Midi Olympique that Leicester coach Richard Cockerill would like to sit down with him at some point prior to the match “in the hope of finding a solution” to the stalled transfer, Boudjellal replied: “I am in Paris all week for professional reasons. And I will be inflexible, I will not pay [Leicester] the slightest centime.”
It’s not hard to imagine how Cockerill, privately, at least, will react to Boudjellal’s words. The former England hooker often gives the impression of never being happier when nursing a grievance, and the Toulon president might have been better advised to keep schtum on the transfer until after Sunday’s showdown rather than pumping up Cockerill still further.
Midi Olympique claims Castrogiovanni is a “collateral victim” of Jonny Wilkinson’s decision to sign on for another season at Toulon, an announcement he made last weekend after months of fevered speculation. It’s said that Wilko has taken a cut in his wages to do so – further enhancing his God-like status in Toulon – but nonetheless he doesn’t come cheap, and even if they wanted to Toulon can no longer afford Castrogiovanni.
All of which promises to fuel the flames when the two sides clash on Sunday. Boudjellal promises Leicester hell but perhaps the Tigers will be inspired to deliver a heavenly performance.
Follow Gavin Mortimer on Twitter @gavinmortimer7