Big city teams key to French Elite Championship expansion and making the game stronger

James Gordon

The likes of Lyon and Toulon are key to plans to expand the French Elite 1 Championship to 14 teams.

The league currently contains 10 teams, including the respective reserve sides for Catalans (St Esteve) and Toulouse, who play in the English set-up.

Both Lyon and Toulon, who are coached by former Dragons winger Justin Murphy, are currently in the Elite 2 Championship.

With no automatic promotion currently in place between the two divisions, improving the infrastucture and finances for clubs outside the top flight is a priority.

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Lyon is the third biggest city in France with a population of 513,000, while Toulon is also well populated with 170,000, and boasts one of the country’s top rugby union sides.

Other cities expressing an interest in progressing up the French pyramid include Montpellier and Bordeaux, who recently started a women’s programme under the close eye of the football club.

Improving the domestic competition in France is seen as a greater priority than getting more clubs in to the English system, according to Carcassonne co-coach and manager Frederic Camel.

He said: “(England) is a possibility. But we must prove ourselves. We would like to help some teams to re-build in the (French) Championship and make our own league stronger.

“We have a partnership with Lyon to help them develop their club.

“We would like to have 14 teams in the division. That would be a good thing. Especially if we can incorporate big clubs. We would like Toulon, we hope they can come in to the first division in the next two or three years.

“Same as Lyon. We work with Montpellier too.

“For the moment, the project is to make the French league stronger.”

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The last time the Elite 1 Championship ran with more than 10 teams is when it had 11 in 2007/08.

Toulon Marlins, who were formed back in 2011, returned to the Elite 2 Championship ahead of the 2018/19 season.

Montpellier are nicknamed the Red Devils, a nod to the visit of Salford, who were the first club side to tour France back in the 1930s. They played in the Elite One Championship back in 2012, before suffering relegation and going bust, before a new club started in the third tier.

They currently play in National Division 2.

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