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Club Rugby

Martin Castrogiovanni has 'lost all respect' for Leicester Tigers' director of rugby Richard Cockerill

Italian prop speaks out over move to Toulon and claims there are 'very few happy players' at the club

Aviva Premiership champions Leicester Tigers will kick-off their title defence at home against Worcester Warriors as Dean Ryan makes his return to the top flight of English rugby.

Castro, as he is affectionately known throughout the rugby world, has joined Toulon having played for the Tigers for seven years, but he has spoken out on the move having paid out of his own pocket to be released from his contract a year early.

The 31-year-old said: “I am not ashamed to admit that I paid to join Toulon out of my own pocket. It was the only way I had to do it.

“The only thing that really annoys me concerns the people at Leicester who handled the transfer, chief executive Simon Cohen and director of rugby Richard Cockerill.

“After all my years of service with Leicester, I did not expect them to behave in such an ungracious manner towards me. I must say they have disappointed me terribly,” continued the Italian prop.

“I have lost all respect for these two people, given the way they have spoken about me and the way they handled my departure.”

Castrogiovanni left his native Argentina at the age of 19 to play in Italy, and thanks to his Grandmother’s Italian heritage, he has gone on to make 97 appearances for the Azzuri.

He slipped behind England’s Dan Cole in the pecking order at Welford Road, but he remained a fan favourite throughout his time in the midlands, with many fans saddened at his departure.

Castrogiovanni added: “I can totally understand that my coaches at Leicester consider Dan Cole to be better than me.

“I would just like them to have said so straight to my face and show me what I had to improve to play more. I only started six matches last season, so, of course, playing more was one of the main reasons for my departure.

“You cannot hope to keep everyone happy by changing the squad around systematically and I can assure you that there are very few happy players at Leicester today. That is hard to say, but the truth cannot remain hidden forever.

“It is not the fault of the club because there are wonderful people working there and the Leicester fans are the same. I have always been straight with the club and its directors.”

Seeking competitive rugby, Castrogiovanni had been linked with a move to free-spending Toulon even before the two sides met in last season’s Heineken Cup quarter-finals. The Heineken Cup champions were keen on the signing, as they attempt to strengthen their already star-studded squad having missed out on the Top 14 title to Castres.

“I had a long talk with Bernard Laporte and Olivier Azam at Toulon after the match. They told me they would not abandon me and that, sooner or later, I would become a Toulon player. They kept their word.

“I won’t hide the fact that Toulon made me a very interesting offer from a financial point of view, but money was not the main reasons for coming here. I want to win still more trophies.”

First-team rugby is not a given at Toulon though, as he will be in direct competition for the number three shirt with New Zealander Carl Hayman, who made the switch from Newcastle in 2010.

The bearded front-row told the Midi Olympique: “Carl is still one of the best in the world. When he was at Newcastle, I played against him several times. His presence motivates me more than it frightens me.

“I am perfectly aware I cannot play every game, but nor do I want to find myself in the situation of playing one and being relegated to the bench for the next one. You need a sequence of matches for your confidence.

“This move is a great honour for me because the best players in the world are here. When you find yourself on the same pitch as (Jonny) Wilkinson, (Andrew) Sheridan, (Bakkies) Botha, (Chris) Masoe, (Freddie) Michalak and (Matt) Giteau, it has to be a great thrill.

“I felt good at Leicester, but I could never have imagined a few months ago that a club with such an armada should want to recruit me.”