Cape Town - Toulon utility back Matt Giteau looks all but certain to make a switch to the Japanese Top League for the 2017/18 season, with the possibility of linking up with former Brumbies and Wallabies team-mate, George Smith.
Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal this week confirmed his view
that Giteau was leaving the club for Japan, speaking to French newspaper Var
“Il m'a demandé sa libération et sauf retournement de
situation, Giteau ira au Japon,” he said, which translates to “He asked me
[for] his release and unless [the] situation turns around, Giteau will go to
Giteau’s future was under a cloud through an injury-hampered
2016 but his recent return to Toulon’s starting team after a lengthy ankle
injury showed he hadn't missed a beat, helping the side qualify for the
European Cup quarter-finals.
The 34-year-old signed his last contract with Toulon in
2014, a two-year deal with an option for a third that brought his time in
France to six seasons, at the time tweeting, “Very happy I will finish my career
Since then, the international rugby landscape has undergone
vast change, with Giteau returning to the Wallabies under the 60-cap barrier
for overseas-based players.
That in itself was a strain for Giteau and Toulon, as Boudjellal played hard ball with his Australian players, withholding or docking salaries for the time they spent with the Wallabies, even during the 2015 World Cup.
Indeed the inside back still fought off retirement
speculation as late as last year after that injury in the opening Bledisloe Cup
Test in Sydney, adamant he was not calling time just yet.
Powerhouse side Suntory Sungoliath loom as Giteau’s most
likely destination, with former Wallabies coach Eddie Jones believed to have
been influential in uniting the two.
Jones, who fast-tracked Giteau to the Wallabies in 2002 before he had played a Super Rugby game, coached Suntory from 2009 to 2012 and brought many high-profile players to the competition powerhouse.
The Sungoliath currently boast Smith in their ranks but
that’s just the start of their Australian connection, with Wallabies legend
George Gregan also playing a stint at the club.
There were reports the Brumbies were chasing their hometown
hero’s signature for the 2016 Super Rugby season in a bid to fill the void of Leukaemia
sufferer Christian Lealiifano.
Any return before the Top 14 season’s conclusion would have meant cutting into his current Toulon deal, though, something he was believed to be reluctant to do.
A Japanese deal could open up the possibility of an
Australian rugby cameo, with handfuls of players currently splitting their time
between Top League and Super Rugby, though it’s unclear whether Giteau has any
plans to come home.
Australians Drew Mitchell, James O’Connor and Liam Gill are
still contracted to the team in the south of France, though there has been
plenty of speculation that Mitchell has been trying to find his way back to
Giteau has a glittering record with Toulon, having led the
club to three consecutive European Champions Cup triumphs in a stellar period
for the team.
News of his move follows Adam Ashley-Cooper’s revelation that Bordeaux-Bègles has opted not to extend his contract, after two seasons with the club.