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So You Think You Know About French Rugby? (Part V)
Posted by southstander on June 14 2005 - 13:45:28

by Rob Peat

As most people will now know, next month we’re off to Perpignan to play London. From next year we’ll have the pleasure of annual fixtures against the Frenchman, but how much do you know about the game in France?

Over the next few weeks Puig-Aubert will try to enlighten us and in his fifth instalment, he talks about the European Superleague.

Chapter 5 - The European Superleague

Ask fans of Leeds, London, Bradford or Saints about the outcome of the ‘Superleague war’ of the mid 1990s and you’ll probably get a positive response. Ask fans of Featherstone or Keighley and you might get a different view. In Australia fans saw the national sport come close to imploding but whatever anyones view about the rights and wrongs of it the game has never been the same since.

France was largely a bystander in a battle that was all about televison and money and not the good of the game, but it was the French who saw their game almost die because of it.

When the European Super league was launched in 1996 it was on French soil with 18,000 odd seeing Paris St Germain defeat Sheffield Eagles. The future looked more than rosy for the competition and for the French in particular.

However, the crowd and victory papered over the fact that PSG faced an impossible task. The side’s players were almost exclusively French but they were being asked to play year round rugby, training with their old team mates in the south west in the week before travelling long distances to either Paris or England at weekends. Many had still been part time players. Moreover, they were trying to launch a side in Paris – a virtual desert in rugby league terms.

Flair and passion got them early victories before fatigue and lack of cohesion inevitably led to a decline with only Workington below them in the final table.

In 1997 the French were largely gone from the side, replaced by second rate journeyman antipodeans playing under Australian and then British coaches. If the French themselves couldn’t capture Parisian imaginations how on earth could these guys do it?

By the end of a lacklustre season, and amid platitudes from the RFL that they would return, PSG folded. Permanently.

This left French rugby league with no presence in the ESL but perhaps more importantly the disputes had killed off traditional international competition. Britain’s move to summer meant seasons were no longer aligned and an end to the GB Tests. The end of traditional touring by Australia and New Zealand took away 6-8 tour and test matches each year from France. These were high profile games that gave prestige and revenue and enabled the best French players to test themselves against the best in the world.

News Corporation’s money also tempted rugby union to become openly professional and hurt the treizistes badly. Unlike the M62 corridor, SW France is not only a league hotbed but one of Union too, with Toulouse and USAP becoming European Champions in recent years. This left talented players with a simple choice: leave home and go to England, stay semi-pro with no meaningful internationals or stay at home playing rugby union – on more money and more chance of rep football. Many of the best took the latter route.

The French could be forgiven for feeling abandoned to a slow death by their friends in Britain and Australasia but what of the game today?

Read Chapter 1 - Puig-Aubert here...

Read Chapter 2 - The Beginnings here...

Read Chapter 3 - Dissolution and Disgrace here...

Read Chapter 4 - The Post War Boom here...

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