Carl Fearns appears to be closing in on a Gloucester U-turn after further reports in France claimed that the English back-row is ready to sign a new contract with Top 14 side Lyon, despite a deal in place to bring the forward back to the Premiership.
27-year-old Fearns has agreed to join Gloucester form the start of next season, with the back-row deciding to end his two-year stay in France and put himself back in the reckoning for a place in the England squad, having been ineligible for the first 15 months of Eddie Jones’s reign as head coach.
But that move was thrown into doubt this week when French newspaper Midi Olympique claimed that Fearns was having second thoughts about the move, with Lyon approaching Gloucester about trying to structure a deal that would see the former Bath forward remain in France.
Gloucester rejected the approach, and issued a statement on Monday to confirm that they expect Fearns to join the club at the end of the season, and added that such rumours were “unfounded and unwelcome”.
Those rumours have returned though, with the same newspaper claiming that Fearns is now ready to sign a new contract with Lyon and that an “internal source” at the Top 14 club has confirmed that No 8 has verbally agreed a deal to remain with them.
The latest development will not be welcomed positively by Gloucester, who have a contract with Fearns in place from next season, and the conflict opens the door to a legal dispute that would need to be finalised before the start of the new season.
“Carl Fearns has signed a long-term contract with Gloucester Rugby and is a key part of the club’s plans moving forward,” Gloucester said earlier this week. “His arrival is keenly anticipated and we very much look forward to welcoming him to Kingsholm.
“The club were contacted by Lyon recently to ask whether we would consider releasing Carl from the contract that he signed back in November, an approach which Gloucester Rugby turned down. Having secured Carl’s signature on a long-term contract, we are disappointed to have to comment on this type of speculation.
“As the first of the club’s external signings announced for next season, Carl will be a key player in Gloucester colours. His superb form for Lyon this season has understandably caught the eye of many observers.
“However, Carl has committed his long-term future to Gloucester Rugby from next season, and any stories suggesting otherwise are both unfounded and unwelcome.”
The Cherry and Whites may be resigned to losing Fearns though, with reported interest in Stade Francais forward Sergio Parisse growing momentum as the Italy captain’s future with the struggling French side plunges further into doubt. Stade saw their planned merger with fellow Parisian side Racing 92 collapse earlier this month, and the club are now facing the prospect of liquidation or relegation to the second tier of French rugby, something that would lead to a mass exodus of their biggest names such as Parisse.
The 33-year-old is joined in the Stade squad by France internationals Rabah Slimani, Alexandre Flanquart, Jules Plisson and Hugo Bonneval, all of which featured in the recent Six Nations campaign and all who are likely to leave the club to maintain their careers with the national side. A number of foreign players would also join Parisse in heading for the exit, with South African duo Morne Steyn and Willem Alberts and Australian scrum-half Will Genia likely to leave.
Stade are currently 12th in the Top 14, though they do hold an 11-point buffer over the relegation zone that is currently filled by Grenoble and Bayonne.