Wednesday, March 3, 2021

French rugby marks the end of a Top 14 season without a champion

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An “unassigned” will forever be indicated in the list of laureates of the Brennus shield, inaugurated in 1892. PASCAL PAVANI / AFP

This season, no one should touch "the end of the wood", the little name of a Brennus shield brought to stay a year longer at the headquarters of the Toulouse stadium, the 2019 champion. At the end of a meeting, Thursday April 30, with the Minister of Sports, Roxana Maracineanu and the French Rugby Federation (FFR), the National Rugby League (LNR) formalized the end of a 2019-2020 season blocked at the 17e day since 1er March

The decision was awaited. On Wednesday, the presidents of the Top 14 and Pro D2 clubs agreed on this option. The most reasonable, no doubt. As with their colleagues in football, club bosses have long thought they could finish the current year and even imagined awarding the title after shortened final stages and behind closed doors at the Stade de France in August (semi-finals 22-23, final at the Stade de France on 29).

"The office will propose to the NRL steering committee not to follow up on the scenario which provided for the organization of final stages at the end of August to close the 2019-2020 season, to pronounce the end of this 2019-2020 season, and to concentrate on the organization of the launch of the 2020-2021 editions of the two championships from September 2020 ", indicates a press release published by the League. The date of this steering committee will be "Fixed in the coming days".

In the scheme that had been imagined, the matches of the final phase would have been contested with the squads … of the 2020-2021 season, the players' contracts only running until the end of June and movements are therefore possible after this date. Pillar Ben Tameifuna could have become champion after two games with his new team from Union Bègles-Bordeaux (UBB) in the final against his current Racing 92 team.

But for a sport whose championship final is a showcase, the spectacle of a champion raising the shield in an empty stadium would have been a stain. For the LNR, the abandonment of the final stages (between the semi-finals scheduled in Nice and the title match) will represent a shortfall of ten million euros.

No champion in continuous testing

Like the Tour de France between 1999 and 2005 (but for other reasons as regards the American Lance Arsmtron), an "unassigned" should therefore forever be indicated in the list of laureates inaugurated in 1892.

To crown a champion in continuous control, by stopping the classification of the Top 14 to the 17e day, would have had little meaning for a sport viscerally attached to the concept of final stages.

Recent history proves it, the unofficial champion of March is not always the official one of June. At the head of the standings before the end of the season, the UBB had declined in advance in recent days through its president, Laurent Marti, this funny title.

The question of ascents and descents was already no longer debated. A consensus already existed to freeze relegation, good news for the Stade Français (and its big budget), last in the standings at the end of the season. As a result, no Pro D2 team will advance to the elite next season.

A final, more delicate point remains to be defined: that of European qualifications in the Champions Cup. There are two options. The first is to organize (but when?) Play-offs between the teams classified between the 5e and the 8e place or modify the format of the competition to qualify eight French clubs instead of six. this last option would ensure the presence of Toulouse and Clermont for example. The EPCR (European Professional Club Rugby) said it was studying this proposal.

A letter sent to President Macron

The 2019-2020 fiscal year behind them, the presidents and the NRL are now working on the resumption of the next, not without some concern.

The League explained that it "Will present in the coming days to the Ministry of Sports its proposal for a medical protocol, re-athletics, preparation for the preparation of the 2020-2021 championships in strict compliance with the health guidelines set by the public authorities".

According to The team, a minority of leaders would defend the idea of ​​a takeover even behind closed doors in order to collect TV rights. But, unlike football, the economy of French rugby depends less on this windfall (estimated at 20% of a club's budget on average) and more on stadium revenues (ticket office, hospitality, partners).

If a scenario of a recovery in September seems the preferred option, other leaders, such as the president of the Bayonne Rowing, Philippe Tayeb, militate for a restart in December 2020 or January 2021 to be guaranteed to evolve before an audience and count on the extension of partial unemployment until then.

The clubs, the NRL and the federation sent a letter to the president of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron, as indicated Le Figaro Tuesday to alert him to their precarious economic situation.

"If we decide to enter the new season, we have to be able to do so with a certain number of guarantees, in particular regarding the holding of matches and the economy", Thomas Lombard, managing director of the Stade Français, told AFP.

The former international even estimates that the survival of the clubs will be played in the next four months. "We haven't had any cash flow since March, he continues. There are certainly government assistance measures, but we still have charges falling. "

Pending possible (and hypothetical) state aid, the idea of ​​placing players out of work and rehiring them later is being considered. French rugby does not yet know its 2021 champion, but it senses that the coming season may be one of all dangers.

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