Belfast Telegraph

Munster and Toulon dismiss any talk of Paul O'Connell deal

By David Kelly

Munster and Toulon have formed an unusual alliance by denying the report in a Toulon newspaper two days ago which claimed Ireland captain Paul O'Connell was set to join the hat-trick chasing European champions.

Despite being contracted to the IRFU and Munster until 2016, and the player's own strong hints that he may retire altogether following the World Cup later this year, the Var Matin newspaper reported on Monday that a deal had been done to secure the second-row.

This would have involved the moneybags side paying off the final year of O'Connell's contract as well as paying his salary.

O'Connell is viewed by Toulon fans as an ideal replacement for the retiring second-row pair of Springbok Bakkies Botha and All Black Ali Williams and would have been expected to command a salary of £300,000, which would exclude transport and accommodation, well in excess of his current basic wage.

However, in an unusual deviation from the norm, Toulon, who moved closer to securing Australia playmaker Quade Cooper yesterday, also issued an unprecedented denial of Monday's news item.

"Toulon cautions that Paul O'Connell has not signed a contract with Toulon Rugby Club and the alleged contacts between the player and the Red and Black are pure speculation," ran the statement.

The IRFU's policy is not to discuss player contracts but Munster head coach Anthony Foley dismissed the claims in the strongest possible terms, labelling them "nonsense".

O'Connell did not train with the Munster squad at Irish Independent Park in Cork yesterday but this was because of a shoulder injury sustained against Edinburgh.

As they prepare for Saturday's PRO12 clash with Treviso, Foley suggested that the story may have been an attempt to unsettle their bid for a first league title since 2011.

"It's nonsense, it's a nuisance," said Foley. "People are probably trying to cause trouble to try and interfere with our run-in. Unless somebody says it to us, it's nothing.

"I know you write in the media, but we don't read it. It's neither here nor there to me. He is contracted here for another season, so I don't know. Unless your man wants to buy him out, I don't know.

"They look at every world class player and I'm sure there are a lot of coaches being asked the same question around what they have and the money that they can afford to spend."

In reference to a slew of other stories in the French media that have linked O'Connell to former Ireland team-mate Bernard Jackman's Grenoble, as well as newly-promoted Pau, where erstwhile Munster assistant Simon Mannix is in charge, Foley laughed off the speculation.

"We'll all go, we'll all go, come on. We are all off. Where was O'Connell last week? Pau?" he said.

O'Connell has refused to commit himself to playing beyond this autumn's World Cup in England and Wales.

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