WELLINGTON – New Zealand media railed at Julian Savea's "disgraceful" treatment by Toulon president Mourad Boudjellal Monday, as the out-of-form ex-All Black vowed to stay at the French club.
Boudjellal told French radio Savea "was no longer welcome" at his club, adding: "I'm going to ask for a DNA test, this isn't the Savea that we signed. They must have changed him on the plane."
The outburst raised eyebrows in New Zealand, where Savea is warmly regarded but has long been seen as well past the blockbusting form that helped the All Blacks lift the 2015 World Cup.
"That man hasn't been sighted since, as anyone with just a passing interest in Super Rugby would know," Radio New Zealand's Hamish Bidwell wrote.
He said Boudjellal was experiencing "buyer's remorse" after failing to carry out due diligence on a 28-year-old winger whose "freakish athleticism" had waned.
Savea, who scored 46 tries in 54 Tests for New Zealand but has managed only two since joining Toulon in August last year, said he would continue to train as normal with the Top 14 side.
"Putting all the negativity behind me and heading into this week with a positive attitude," he tweeted. "Whether I am welcomed or not, I am still contracted to my team and I will continue to train week in and week out with my brothers."
Former Wallaby and Toulon winger Drew Mitchell said Boudjellal's put-downs "won't exactly entice other players to play for Toulon".
"Business or not, you just don't treat people like this," he tweeted.
The New Zealand Herald's Patrick McKendry said Savea's treatment would serve as a warning to All Blacks contemplating an overseas move.
"(It's) tangible evidence that the grass isn't always greener," he wrote.
Bidwell echoed the sentiment, noting that the injury-prone Nehe Milner-Skudder - another All Black wing who shone at the 2015 World Cup - is due to join Toulon later this year.
"You wonder if Toulon really know what they're getting this time either," he wrote.
"Fingers crossed Boudjellal likes this new toy better than the last one."
Agence France-Presse (AFP)