For Leicester Tigers fans, it has not been a good day at the rumour mill. Reports have emerged from France suggesting both their captain and Director of Rugby are being lined up for moves across the Channel ahead of next season.
First, fly-half and club captain Toby Flood is apparently being courted by Toulon, Toulouse and Clermont Auvergne, according to reports from RugbyRama. The England international’s contract is up at the end of the season, and he has recently stated that he is in no rush to sign a new one. Obviously, the Tigers will be working as hard as possible to keep him at the club, but with Owen Farrell elevating himself to first choice on the international scene and the emergence of Freddie Burns, Flood may decide that the time is right for a big payday as he approaches the end of his career. He certainly wouldn’t be the first.
The three French giants are all looking to replace their current options at 10. Jonny Wilkinson, at Toulon, is largely expected to retire at the end of this season. At Toulouse, Luke McCalister and Lionel Beauxis are both out of contract this year – the former blows too hot and cold, while the latter is not the big name player a club like Toulouse demand. At Clermont, Brock James is superlative when on form, but has a tendency to go missing in the big games. His future is far from certain.
And speaking of Clermont, les Jaune et Bleu have reportedly included Flood’s DOR, Richard Cockerill, on a shortlist of contenders to replace the outgoing Vern Cotter, according to reports in regional paper La Montagne. Cockerill is under contract until 2015 and has never expressed a desire to leave the club with whom he has such strong ties, but it is worth noting that Clermont are the only other club he has ever played for – his son was even born there, so it is a place he would feel comfortable.
The reports of Cockerill moving are speculative at best, even if he does know the set-up there. He is part of the furniture at the Tigers and has never expressed a desire to leave. That said, with the English clubs increasingly struggling to compete with their French counterparts in Europe under their more stringent salary cap, the lure of being able to attract any player in world rugby could be tempting. Of course, this presupposes that there is a European competition to play in over the next few seasons.
The Flood rumours make more sense. With his international career seemingly dwindling, and the opportunity to play in a new environment for more money, why wouldn’t he consider it? Certainly, it has worked for Englishmen in his situation before him, not least Wilkinson, the man he could replace at Toulon. If he fancied bending his old mentor’s ear about all this, Wilko would undoubtedly only have positive things to say about moving to the South of France. He has enjoyed some of the best rugby of his life there.
Whatever happens it is nervous times for Leicester Tigers fans this season, as they wait to discover the future of their two most important men.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images