Toulouse chairman wants more French teams in Championship

James Gordon

Photo credit: Bernard Rieu

Toulouse president Bernard Sarrazain wants to see more French clubs push for inclusion in the RFL system.

As his own club awaits their fate following their application to become the 12th club in Super League and follow countrymen Catalans Dragons, Sarrazain is clear on the direction he wants the French game to take as it currently awaits the election of a new president and leadership of its governing body.

He said: “We need an Elite Championship with a minimum of 12 clubs, which means the creation of additional teams, if possible in big cities.

“Then I think we must do everything that will allow Elite clubs which can, to join the English competitions, at the very least in the Championship.

“I’m waiting for something new. The FFR needs to grow.”

Toulouse have been back in the RFL structure for the past five seasons, winning promotion from League 1 in the 2016 season. They had previously spent three years in the Championship during the licensing era between 2009 and 2011.

That aside, there has been little other progress in relation to a pathway between the British game and the French.

The ill-fated Anglo-French cup was played in 2012 and scrapped after one season, despite the game between Featherstone and French champions Pia being televised live on Premier Sports.

Toulouse participated, playing Halifax, while Carcassonne faced Sheffield and Leigh took on Avignon, but the competition wasn’t well received by fans. Just 773 turned up to Leigh Sports Village to watch the Centurions beat Avignon 44-10, when their average crowd that year was just under 2000.

Featherstone were crowned “European Champions” with a comfortable 48-22 win at home to Pia, and though both Toulouse and Carcassonne enjoyed home advantage against Halifax and Sheffield, they went down 54-26 and 40-12 respectively.

French sides’ inclusion in the Challenge Cup has deteriorated over the past decade, with no one other than Toulouse and Catalans taking part since Carcassonne in 2013 – with Toulouse themselves refusing to enter in recent seasons due to cost, in spite of the Dragons’ historic triumph at Wembley in 2018.

The French Elite Championship currently comprises of 10 teams, including the respective reserve sides of Toulouse and Catalans (St Esteve) as well as the likes of Lezignan, Carcassonne and Limoux.

One potential “city” candidate for a slot in an expanded Elite 1 could be Lyon, who continue their plans to establish rugby league in France’s third biggest city, while Toulon also currently play against Lyon in the Elite 2 Championship.

Meanwhile, Sarrazain has thrown his weight behind the presidential campaign of Luc Lacoste, a former president of the Perpignan rugby union team.

There are three contenders, with the winner then taking charge of the French federation.

Sarrazain added: “We need something new. The FFR needs someone who can build relationships, with commercial knowledge and who knows and can surround himself with people capable of setting up large scale marketing operations.

“Above all, be capable of building a French team capable of beating England.”