It seems that Tana Umaga’s position as coach of French Top 14 club Toulon is becoming increasingly unstable. According to reports, the former All Blacks captain is in line to be replaced by John Connolly, who used to be in charge of the Australian national team.
Connolly is understood to be heading to Europe this week to have a meeting with Toulon’s owner Mourad Boudjella. This has, inevitably, raised questions about Umaga’s future. Several rugby bets are already being placed on Connolly taking over the reigns at the club.
Should the speculation continue, it is likely that the build up to Toulon’s next game against Bayonne will be somewhat disrupted and this won’t do anyone at the club any favours.
Umaga will also be aware of reports that his fellow countryman Sonny Bill Williams – who he had a huge role in bringing to French club – is becoming increasingly homesick and is considering a return to New Zealand. Not exactly something you want to hear from someone who is being paid $1.85million per season is it?
Williams is currently on the sidelines suffering with a leg injury that he sustained in the second game of the season against Brive. After being limited to just two appearances for his new club, Williams is now unhappy by the way he is being treated by owner Boudjella.
Overall, it seems that things are very much up in the air with regards to Umaga and Williams’s future and that despite them being two of the most famous sportsmen in New Zealand, they are not immune from criticism from Toulon’s owner.
So, is the pressure and speculation about their future fair? Well, in terms of Williams I think it has a lot to do with the fact that the club are just frustrated that someone they are paying so much money for has only been able to play twice. The player himself can’t help that though – he has obtained a hairline leg fracture, after all.
As for Umaga, I think it is simply a case of the owner expecting too much too soon. Toulon were promoted from ProD2 as Champions last season and even though Boudjella has ploughed millions into their Top 14 campaign, they shouldn’t be expected to take to the new league immediately. It takes more than a big pay cheque to succeed in this league.
Before the season started, the rugby odds suggest that a top half finish should be achieved by Umaga’s team and in fairness to them; this is where they are at right now. They sit 7th in the league after two wins, two defeats and one draw. Not the worst start by any means, but perhaps Boudjella was expecting an unbeaten start to the new campaign – who knows. He was certainly extremely critical of their18-25 loss to Mont-de-Marsan recently, describing it as a ‘shameful performance’.
It is certainly a case of ‘watch this space’ as far as Toulon are concerned right now as it is far from guaranteed that Umaga or injured start Williams will still be at the club in a months time.
By Thomas Rooney