Six things to ponder after visiting rugby league in France

James Gordon

After a weekend watching and learning about rugby league in France, we list six things to ponder.

French game needs to be appreciated more

We talk about the expansion of the game, but do we appreciate the places it’s already played? There are two semi-professional leagues in France with a total of 20 teams, yet there is barely any talk about it. We have made an effort to increase our coverage of the French game, and there needs to be more of a consideration as to how we can best exploit the fact that we have a second “heartlands” of rugby league in the south of France. Whether that be assisting the national team to improve, or helping to develop the club sides to be stronger, this surely is the best way for the game to grow – by making stronger those it has, as well as helping to develop new clubs, like Toronto, Valencia and Red Star.

Catalans success doesn’t necessarily filter through

One of the criticisms of the development of the game in France is that it’s had “millions” of investment through Catalans’ involvement in Super League. That’s not strictly true. Any revenue generated by the Dragons will have gone on their salary cap, and won’t have really been noticed by the rest of the game in France. The presence of St Esteve in the French Elite 1 Championship gives the Dragons a ground to develop young players, but in terms of exposure and finances, Catalans being in Super League doesn’t do much to support the domestic competition, though it is of course good for the general visibility of rugby league in France.

Bonus point systems

Interesting to note that the French Elite Championship still employs the bonus point system that was scrapped by the Championship a few years ago, and never adopted by Super League. Three points for a win, two for a draw and one for a loss of 12 points or less. All four games at the Magic Weekend saw the losing team snatch a bonus point, including Palau in what was a relatively comfortable win for Avignon, who led 22-6 at one stage. Another bonus point was earned by the four winning teams at Magic Weekend, providing an extra incentive to win the game of the extra round.

Worldwide rules

Like the points system, it’s surely time for rugby league to adopt universal rules worldwide. Covering games in the competition for the first time, we were unsure whether the seven-tackle set after a 20m tap rule was being employed, or indeed whether the free play or advantage rules were in operation. When we’re watching the same sport worldwide, we shouldn’t have to second guess which laws are or aren’t in operation.

Integrate French teams back in to Challenge Cup

Last decade, French teams in the Challenge Cup was a regular occurrence. In recent years, bar Catalans, that has diminished. Even Toulouse don’t bother with it, despite being part of the English league system. Of course, there are cost implications for being involved – but surely a good way to help develop the game in France would be to integrate them in to the Challenge Cup, and while they’re at it, open it up to even more clubs. There’s no reason that the famous competition should be restricted as it is. Take inspiration from the FA Cup, that enables minnows the chance to progress to play even semi-professional sides.

Huddersfield Giants v. S.M.Pia – Powergen Challenge Cup 4th Round – 29/2/04

Would combined French teams have a better chance?

With both Catalans and Toulouse still running reserve sides in the Elite 1 Championship, is a better solution for the French game to send combined sides to participate in the English system, should that be on the agenda for future years. While Carcassonne may not want to make the step up to League One on their own, a combined team with Lezignan and Limoux might well have enough resource and interest to compete. The three could still retain a presence in the Elite 1 Championship, giving them the potential for year round rugby league – a great opportunity for developing juniors, as well as increasing the number of professionals in France.