Some leading French agents have warned the big-spending Top 14 clubs that their pulling power to attract global superstars is over due to the coronavirus pandemic.
A large number of the leading players from around the globe currently ply their trade in the French premier and second divisions.
Closer to home, the likes of World Cup-winning Springboks Cheslin Kolbe, Handre Pollard and Eben Etzebeth all play in the Top 14 as do former Boks Johan Goosen and Bismarck du Plessis.
Numerous leading unions – including SA Rugby, New Zealand Rugby and Rugby Australia – have announced significant pay cuts for their players, but the impact of Covid-19 has also restricted France’s clubs from strengthening their squads.
‘The bubble is bursting. Right now, the clubs are taking notice of the reality. They’re living outside of their means,’ one player agent, Damien Dussault, said.
‘On the market for players, the discussions don’t ever really stop. They are slow right now because some teams don’t know their budgets, some don’t know when they’ll restart playing.’
Despite a hefty salary cap set at €11.3 million in the French top flight, a reduction in tickets sale income from last season, a potential loss of sponsors and general uncertainty have hampered potential new signings for Top 14 clubs.
‘There are quite a lot of players but right now the clubs haven’t got the space in the budget or in the salary cap,’ another agent, Laurent Quaglia, explained.
‘There are deals which could be done but aren’t done because of the health situation. All the deals that have been announced were signed a long time ago,’ added Quaglia, who helped bring Kurtley Beale to Racing 92.
Stade Francais, who had the competition’s biggest budget – €40-million last season – have kept their business to a minimum for the coming campaign, having signed Argentina pair Nicolas Sanchez and Pablo Matera last year.
‘Transfers, recruitment is pretty much at a stop, when normally it’s all finished by now,’ Stade general manager Thomas Lombard told AFP.
‘We’re not in an absolute emergency, but we need clarity on things.’
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