All Blacks great Andrew Mehrtens has lifted the veil on life as a player under Mourad Boudjellal – comparing the controversial French billionaire to a "kid playing fantasy football" and detailing his obsession with signing big-name players.
The 59-year-old owner of Top14 club Toulon this week savaged former All Black wing Julian Savea, suggesting the troubled Kiwi would be sacked following the team's loss to Agen.
"I'm going to ask for a DNA test. They must have swapped him on the plane [when Savea joined from the Hurricanes last year]. If I were him I would apologise and go back to my home country," Boudjellal told French radio RMC.
"I've told him that he was free to go and wasn't welcome at Toulon any more."
Despite the threat, Savea was included in Toulon's squad to play Pau this weekend with coach Patrice Collazo describing the troubled Kiwi as a "fake problem".
Former test first-five Mehrtens, the second all-time All Blacks points scorer who spent a season at the club in 2007, revealed to NZME's Phil Gifford how players would often be subjected to Boudjellal's infamous temper.
Mehrtens joined Toulon three years after playing the last of 70 tests in 2004, scoring 261 points in 25 matches for the then second division club.
Boudjellal, who made his fortune from a comic book empire, took control of the club in 2006 and has signed some of the game's biggest names – including Sonny Bill Williams, Tana Umaga, Matt Giteau, Bakkies Botha, and Jonny Wilkinson.
"I have no animosity towards him [Boudjellal]," Mehrtens said.
"There are elements about him that are good. He was the son of Algerian immigrants, and I think he had it tough growing up. He comes from a macho culture. I read once he said his wristwatch was so expensive, he 'had an apartment on my wrist'.
"For Mourad the thrill is like a kid playing in a fantasy football league. He loves signing the big names, the bigger the better. If he went to an agent and said, 'Get me the best five players in the world,' and was told, 'But the best five players are all fullbacks, he might say, 'Get me all five anyway.'"
On a day to day basis, Mehrtens said Boudjellal didn't spend a lot of time with the team.
But when he was upset he would insist on talking to the players in the changing room before a game.
"He'd come in and tell us we're all shit, and that no matter what it cost him, if we didn't win he'd rip up all our contracts, and we'd never play for another club in France.
"When I was there George Gregan was our halfback, and Mourad became obsessed with the fact George wasn't scoring tries. George was playing really well, but Mourad seemed to think that because George was a big name, he should also be scoring tries all the time."
Mehrtens feels that Boudjellal probably struggles with how today's rugby, where fast-moving players have to be constantly making decisions for themselves on the field, has moved on from the day when coaches were basically highly prescriptive, virtually dictatorial.
"Mourad tends to operate from a position of negative authority, which doesn't work for a lot of people. He's done some good things for Toulon, but right from the start he's been controversial."