The plan to re-establish rugby league in France’s third biggest city, Lyon

James Gordon

Lyon-Villeurbanne currently sit bottom of the Elite 2 Championship, but they are looking at the bigger picture as they plan a return to the top of the French game.

One of the oldest clubs in France, Lyon were champions in 1951 and 1955, as well as winning the Lord Derby Cup three times, but have endured tough times in their recent history, last winning promotion to Elite 1 back in 2002.

Situated in the third most populous city in France, with good transport links with the UK, notably a four-hour train ride to London, it could be the perfect location for the spread of the game.

Foued Boudali, Sports Director at Lyon, said: “We’ve got a three year project to get in to Elite 1. Rugby league in France is in a good place because of Catalans Dragons, and though where we live in Lyon is more union, we want to grow rugby league.

“We hope to have more French teams in the English league.

“This year is a transition year for us. We need to build up. We used to pay in the first league and the club came down, and we don’t want to make the same mistakes again. We want to build step-by-step.

“We need to build up the supporters, we need more staff, and most importantly, we need to build up the rugby in schools.

“When we arrived at the club, we travelled to England and visited Leigh, and that cultural experience gave us more reason to love rugby league and this club. We want to pass on that passion to our juniors, and exchange with the English culture through rugby league to a new generation.”

Their coach, Nabil Bounia, was part of a young France squad that had an exchange in Widnes back in the late 1990s, playing against the Vikings’ academy side at a then newly-built Halton Stadium.

He took over as coach in the summer, and has led them to one win in their opening six matches in Elite 2. Along with Boudali, Bounia spent some time with Carcassonne last month to see how their operations run on and off the field.

Bounia said: “We have a group of 25 players. We came to Carcassonne to see their organisation, how they coach, how they utilise their staff. It was a good experience for us.

“We have a mix of union players, players that have been with our club since juniors and even some soccer players.”

In January, Lyon are hoping to visit London Skolars, to coincide with the annual Capital Challenge game against Wigan. They are keen to forge a partnership with the Skolars, to strengthen the links between Lyon and the English game.

Lyon’s only win of the season came against reigning champions Baho in round four.