Escaping the “bubble” of Australian sport could be the best thing for ex-NRL star Ben Barba, according to his new Toulon teammate Drew Mitchell.
Barba will link up with the French Top 14 club this week as they prepare for the Brisbane Global Rugby Tens, although he has been blocked from playing in the tournament by the Australian Rugby Union.
Last week he signed a $2.5-million deal across two and a half years with Toulon, defecting from Cronulla after copping a 12-week ban from the NRL for testing positive to cocaine in the days after their grand final victory.
The 27-year-old hasn’t played rugby union before but Mitchell – one of five Australians now contracted to the club – believes he will probably relish the change of scenery in the south of France.
“Hopefully (he goes) well. I’d prefer to just be talking about his footy – I don’t know him at all, or whatever else has happened,” Mitchell said.
“He’ll be completely out of the spotlight, you’re completely left to your own devices.
“You go to football and that’s pretty much the last time you think of it – as soon as you go home it’s nothing about football, you don’t have to worry about anything or anyone trying to catch you out or doing things.
“For that, it’s really good, guys that want to get away from the bubble that it is here with the media and stuff in Australia.”
But Mitchell also warned expectations are always high at Toulon – particularly when it comes to owner Mourad Boudjellal, a maverick comic book magnate renown for lashing out at his players in the press when they underperform.
Boudjellal cancelled the team’s holidays after slumping to a home loss last week and famously described Quade Cooper as “pate” compared to the “foie gras” of retired English five-eighth Jonny Wilkinson.
“With the owner that we have, he expects results pretty quickly, and also the supporters we have, they make an opinion of you pretty quickly as well,” Mitchell said.
“You’ve got to make sure you start well.
“I wouldn’t have a clue (where he would play) but he’s pretty handy at the back. It’s probably a little bit different because of the kicking and tactical game side of things.
“But he’s one of those guys who could probably add anything anywhere along the backline.”