The only surprising thing to emerge from the spectacular fall out between Toulon and Julian Savea is that anyone is surprised there has been a spectacular fall out.

Seriously, who didn't see this coming? Who honestly thought player and club were a great match given their respective histories?

If ever there was a signing destined to end badly this was it and while it is appalling that Savea has been humiliated by club owner Mourad Boudjellal, might the phrase caveat emptor apply to both parties now they find themselves in what appears to be an irretrievably broken relationship?

Boudjellal is a law unto himself, cursed with the belief that his enormous wealth entitles him to say what he likes when he likes.


In his time as owner of Toulon he has been publicly homophobic, condoned a drug deal, accused referees of being incompetent and abused opposition players.

He quite brilliantly plays the role of cartoon villain as if he is auditioning to be cast in one of the many comics on which his fortune has been made.

He has been fined and he has been given touchline bans, neither of which has had any impact in amending his behaviour.

He doesn't have to be fearful of the limp sanctions that are imposed because he has the money to not care about being fined and nor does he have to worry about any damage to his or his club's reputation.

He can be as hot-headed as he likes, abuse his own players, destroy them the way he has Savea and incur the wrath of professionals around the world and yet when he takes out his chequebook in search of the next superstar, the moral indignation will disappear and the signature will go on the dotted line.

This isn't just life at Toulon, it is life in France and Boudjellal is hardly alone in being an egomaniac club owner willing to do and say almost anything to achieve success.

The anything goes culture is the antithesis of the set-up in New Zealand where there are strategies in place to manage the physical and mental well-being of individuals and cast-iron commitments by coaches to never say anything remotely critical of their players in public.

Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal. Photo / Getty
Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal. Photo / Getty

But New Zealand's players can't become like English tourists wandering around the South of Spain outraged that they can't find a pub doing egg and chips.

They have to do their research and accept that if they sign an overseas deal – particularly with Toulon and the ultra volatile Boudjellal – they won't be looked after the way they are at home.

They take the enormous sums of money at their own risk and while no one should condone the ritual, public humiliation of an employee or celebrate the way some French club owners denigrate the values of the game, nor should anyone be surprised when it happens.

And likewise, just as the players need to be aware of what they are getting into when they head overseas, so too do the clubs need to do their due diligence in regard to what they are buying.

Toulon proclaimed they were buying an All Blacks superstar when they signed Savea in August last year. But were they really?

They were buying a player who had in 2014 been an All Blacks superstar. But that same player was out of condition and out of form the next year and but for a brief recovery at the World Cup, spent his last three seasons in New Zealand battling his weight and subsequently sliding out of contention.

Savea wasn't even a regular starter for the Hurricanes by mid-way through the 2016 campaign and his ability to score tries became progressively less between 2015 and 2018.

There's no need or desire to stomp on Savea's legacy, but if Toulon had actually done their homework properly, they may not have forked out a small fortune to bring the former All Black to France.

They should have seen he was a high-risk purchase – quite obviously mentally vulnerable given the way his conditioning had collapsed in 2015 and 2016.

He was also exposed in 2018 as lacking top end pace when he couldn't finish an intercept he made against the Chiefs last year with a 10-metre headstart on the chasing defence.

Savea had been a great player between 2012 and 2015 but clearly wasn't a great player by the time Toulon signed him.

They bought on reputation instead of form and Boudjellal's cruel comments suggesting he hasn't got what he paid for with Savea, don't so much reflect the owner's lack of class and humanity as his lack of research.

Toulon got exactly what they paid for and the fact that this unhappy marriage has ended in an unhappy divorce is remarkable only for its predictability.