"I will tell you a little secret. I will play in Australia soon" ... Sebastien Chabal. Photo: Reuters
AUSTRALIAN rugby circles were abuzz yesterday as it emerged that French cult rugby figure Sebastien Chabal was headed down under.
But rather than appear with a Super Rugby team, Chabal will play a one-off game for Balmain - in Sydney's second division suburban comp next week. Balmain Rugby Club president Warren Livingstone confirmed Chabal's appearance this morning.
The France international, nicknamed the Caveman, parted ways with Top 14 Parisian side Racing Metro earlier this month, citing a communication breakdown with Metro coach Pierre Berbizier.
He floated the possibility of playing in Australia, England, Japan or elsewhere in France a week ago, but yesterday told French radio station RMC that he had narrowed the list further.
''I will tell you a little secret, I will play in Australia soon. That's all I can tell you today,'' he said.
''For now, no more information. Neither the identity of a club, or duration of contract or even the nature of the championship.''
The 34-year-old also posted a cryptic message on Twitter yesterday, saying: ''Koalas ou Kangourous?'', which translates as ''Koalas or kangaroos?''.
The statement was widely construed as an indication Chabal was in talks to join a Super Rugby team, but instead he will play with Balmain.
Chabal's appearance, set to be against Petersham next week, comes after Wallabies Drew Mitchell and Matt Giteau both played in the club's black and gold jersey last year.
Chabal was said to be the highest-paid player in the world when he joined Racing in 2009 on a reported €1 million-a-year ($1.2 million) deal.
There is no doubt his signing would be a boon for the marketing and memberships departments in any Australian franchise, but all the Australian Super Rugby franchises said they were not in the market for Chabal.
NRL club South Sydney were in talks with Chabal in 2008 but signed Sam Burgess instead.
''We're pretty happy with that decision,'' Rabbitohs chief executive Shane Richardson said yesterday, adding that the club had no further interest in the Frenchman.
There were reports Chabal's shock departure from Racing followed a heated exchange with coach Berbizier.
Chabal, who was not picked in France's Rugby World Cup squad last year, had been in negotiations with Racing about a new contract since the end of last year.
A statement from the club made on February 2 said Chabal and club president Jacky Lorenzetti had argued over the club's ''sporting strategy'' and had agreed to ''leave on good terms''.