They had a week to change sports. With a simple equation: be sixteen to go from fifteen to seven. Saturday 1st February, within the Arena de la Défense, the fourteen Top 14 clubs, joined by teams from Monaco and Barbarians, compete in the first edition of the French VII rugby championship. "A rugby festival", promises Racing 92 president Jacky Lorenzetti, who plays at home.
Professionalism, said championship, which takes place over a day for its first edition before operating in several phases, has already adopted its "naming". And it’s an accounting firm that puts its name into the competition, with a large check. "It’s not every day that you start a new professional sports league," greets Paul Goze, president of the National Rugby League (NRL), on the initiative of the operation.
Throughout the day, from 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., meetings will be held on the lawn of the altoséquanaise enclosure. Seven-minute knockout matches – twenty-eight in total – to which all clubs are directed to send at least three players from their professional team (at XV), the Top 14 losing on this weekend due to the opening of the Six Nations Tournament. And, for the players, the transition from the game to XV to that to VII, faster and multiplying the hooks and precise passes, had to be done quickly.
Among the famous heads supposed to entice spectators – the rest of the teams being made up of young players – we notice Juan Imhoff and Brice Dulin (Racing 92), Lucas Tauzin and Arthur Bonneval (Toulouse), Timoci Nagusa (Montpellier), Jean-Marcellin Buttin (Lyon) or Marc Andreu (La Rochelle).
Train players for the Olympics
Vice-president of the LNR in charge of the development of rugby VII, Jean-Marc Manducher tells the genesis of this tournament. “Five years ago, we came across a sport that was starting to develop at the level of the national teams and we wanted to take the bandwagon. " Because the "seven" is not lacking in finery. Olympic sport since 2016, “This other form of play is very promising in women's rugby”, continues the former US Oyonnax leader. And allows French rugby to develop another type of game.
Especially since, while Sevens rugby is now an Olympic sport, it is struggling to make a hole in France, where the XV dominates everything. Unlike other nations that also have a XIII rugby championship, or VII competition. And this championship, which also aims to conquer a new audience, aims to get players out for the Paris Olympics in 2024.
"This is the goal assumed, insists Paul Goze. For the 2020 Games, it's going to be a little fair, it's tomorrow already. But for those of 2024 or 2028 and beyond, the fact that there is a pool of players who play seven during the season and then with the France team will allow to have a team that rises to level and d 'have results. "
The statutes of the new championship plan to release players for international deadlines. And, unlike the XV of France, where we start from the clubs to compose the French team, in IV rugby, the irrigation is done from the French team towards the clubs, precedence of the team national forces. The specialists of the VII of France gave their advice to the clubs, to set up their teams – an obligation for all the formations of the elite.
"Sport of the future"
“It’s the creation of a new professional sport from scratch that looks like rugby, ignites Paul Goze, the boss of the NRL. There were no teams, we had to create them. It’s a huge job. " According to the League, if development follows its course, the clubs of Pro D2, the second division, could quickly join the adventure.
" It’s the sport of the future, analyzes the Argentinian of Racing 92 Juan Imhoff, who took part in the Rio Games with his country. When we compare it to the XV, we say that there are similar things, but the VII is easier to see and there is much more speed. This is what people love the most. "
Once this event day has ended, and the first title won, a new formula will be implemented over several days, with a final phase next November. There will therefore be two French VII rugby champions in 2020. "Let's say there will be the first champion of France, and the champion of France 2020", Paul Goze shade.