Yes, French rugby is suffering from a variety of problems that are not reducible to the two I am going to discuss here.

But I feel these are the core issues that need to be resolved if French rugby wants to get back to the table in the long term.

The Top 14 issue

The French Championship (Top 14) proclaims itself “the best championship in the world”, but it’s actually the worst from a national team perspective. The clubs are financially very powerful and are represented by the Ligue Nationale de Rugby (LNR). This gives them huge negotiation power when in discussions with the French Federation (FFR).

Basically, they do what they want and what they want is to make money. And to make money you need to both recruit stars and win games. And that is the death of your national team in a golden package. It is well known that in the French Top 14, young French players do not play a lot because there are so many foreign stars, but I’m not going further into that pretty clear argument in this article.

Foreign stars tend to top rankings and have been picking up player of the year awards.

Win at all costs

I want to focus on the winning-at-all-costs culture that exists in this championship and that explains the rest. Big clubs want to win all games to be in the conversation for the final win. Small clubs want to win all games to stay away from the last two places (14th and 13th) that will leave the championship at the end of the season. Therefore, during the whole season, no coach will ever take the risk of picking a young player, no matter how talented he is. No coach will ever tell his players to take risks and play from their 22 even if the situation is favourable.

Winning at all costs means buying foreign superstars and neglecting homegrown talent.
By Pierre-Selim, via Wikimedia Commons

The consequences of losing a game are just too high both financially and sportively. Therefore, these players are not used to playing fast and skilful rugby with all the risks implied, they are used to play territory rugby and going for the posts whenever possible. You will be easily convinced of that by watching the last Top 14 finals or semi-finals. Not all the games are like that but definitely the majority of them.

Sports culture in France

In France, sport is not valued like in other parts of the world. If you are good in a sport but bad at maths, you will not be truly recognised. On the flip side, in Anglo-Saxon countries sport is considered to be a huge part of education. In France, if you don’t enrol in a club, you will never see a rugby pitch.

In New Zealand and Wales, not to mention England and Ireland, a huge percentage of kids will have the opportunity to play rugby at school. And from a very early age too. In France, you will usually start to play consistently at 13 or 14 and you have to find a club for that. It is too late, and French rugby players lose those crucial years for skills development.

I’m not talking about pure skills like offloads that are based mostly on talent. And French players are talented. I’m talking about basic skills like passes, ruck clearance, kicking game, that French players do not acquire fully and that are fundamental.

The All Blacks are “just” doing simple things right but we can’t. We have to change the whole system if we want to have a chance to compete in this new rugby environment.

Avatar

Author: Ambroise Blanluet

Hey there, I’m Ambroise and as my strange first name suggests it, I’m French. I am an absolute fan of the game in general and of the All Blacks in particular. I also play at an amateur level for my university where the gameplan essentially consists of drinking beer.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Usual french nonsense about “Anglo Saxon” sports culture … very difficult to make a general assessment of the overall level across all sports between countries but English sport was in general disarray in the 90s and English comprehensive schools are notorious for undervaluing sport. The English revival in sport in later years is in elite sport and seems to have been based around lottery funding

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here