The Rugby League was once huge in France, why can’t it be huge again?

The Rugby League was once huge in France, why can’t it be huge again?

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Avignon’s world-famous shortened bridge that only half crosses the Rhône is a perfect metaphor for the current state of the Rugby League in France.

Rugby à Treize has made massive progress lately on solid foundations, but without support to go further the game could fall overboard with a huge splash and sink completely.

Nobody is more aware of this than the very dynamic Christophe Jouffret, born in Avignon, former CEO of the Catalans Dragons and current adviser to his native club “Les Bisons”, who surfs on the crest of a wave of form in the Elite championship One.

One of the main administrators of French football for two decades, Jouffret believes that the Rugby League is on the verge of bridging the gap between semi-professional virtual anonymity and its rightful place among the main football and rugby sports in France. .

The appointment of former Australian Deputy Prime Minister Troy Grant as the new president of the International Rugby League and his avowed intention to bring the RL World Cup to France in 2025 has given Jouffret real optimism about the imminent French renaissance.

” Why not? He told Love Rugby League. “The Rugby League was once huge in France, why can’t it be again?”

Despite the best attempts by the Vichy government (in collaboration with rugby union and the Nazis during WWII) to eliminate the Rugby League, the game flourished in the 1950s and the very first World Cup took place in France in front of huge crowds.

However, a subsequent combination of mismanagement and fighting between the bosses of the game saw the Treizistes plummet in the French sporting pecking order and the sport was in danger of disappearing altogether until the Catalan Dragons (and now Toulouse Olympique) arouse the hope of a revival.

Jouffret was there when the Dragons were born 21 years ago, a moment he describes as a “pivot” for the game in France.

“It was so ambitious at the time, but it’s the best thing that could have happened for the game here,” he said: “And now Toulouse are moving forward too and they won’t stop before to enter the Super League.

“Another World Cup could be the next big development for the Rugby League in France,” Jouffret added: “It will open a window for the world to our game. All important political and business decision-makers will be aware of our sport and c is exactly what we need.

“We have all the facilities, some of the best stadiums in the world and I know there are a lot of football clubs that would love to host games. Imagine an international Rugby League match in a place as fabulous as the Orange Velodrome in Marseille.

“But for me, the most important thing for our game is to be represented in our capital. We must build our links with the political networks in Paris, it is the place where all the major decisions are made and it is good to hear that the new president of the IRL has a political background and contacts within the French government. .

“Troy Grant will be an incredible asset to the French Federation with his international political relations and his links with the Parisian government.”

“It was one of the greatest gifts the Rugby League in France could have hoped for to bring Trent Robinson here as a player and then coach at Toulouse and the Catalan Dragons. He is now Director of Rugby for the France team.

“He is very passionate about France and he will do everything he can to help us. His knowledge is incredible, he’s fully aware of the good and the bad in this country and he’s the kind of man who can fix a lot.

Jouffret is rightly proud of the Bisons’ incredible rise to the Elite One rankings this year. Practically nailed in the top six, the Bisons are not afraid of anyone in the play-offs after a series of breathtaking victories, including an annihilation of 11 tries from Toulouse Elite.

Les Bisons succumbed to championship leaders Carcassonne last weekend, but Jouffret remains convinced his side can claim the title this year.

He said: “The staff and the players are really excited about how the season is going. We already had a good team at the start of the season but we added Pat Moran and of course Tony Gigot and my son Louis, they brought that extra touch of professionalism.

“We’re not embarrassed to say we should be in play-offs because we’re playing really well now. We are scoring many tries and our defense has improved so we know we can compete. Certainly Lezignan, Carcassonne and the Catalans will be the favorites as they have been playing at consistently high levels for many years.

“But the football play-offs are just one game, anything can happen in 80 minutes and we are not worried about playing against anyone, there is a good spirit in Avignon.

ROUND: Carcassonne in the lead with four to play, coach of the war of words and best wishes to President Lacoste

“I was in training earlier this week and again we were doing the Covid tests on the players and it’s difficult but nobody is complaining. Fortunately, all tests have come back negative again and we have to appreciate what the players are doing.

“They all take great care of themselves, they can’t go out with their friends and family to socialize if they want to keep playing. They are making huge sacrifices for their clubs and teammates and although this is a horrible situation we find ourselves in, it has created a great bond between the players.

Jouffret’s pride in his native team extends beyond the boundaries of the Parc des Sports, he believes that the entire Provence region provides an invaluable pool of players to the game.

He added: “I want to say how proud we are in Provence to have sent a lot of our players to the Catalan club. This region has provided so much, the list is too long to mention, from the start of the Dragons Renaud Gigue joined them in 2005 and now he’s back here in Avignon as head coach.

“Vincent Duport, Tony Gigot, Ben Garcia, there are too many to talk about, and the last seems to be Matthieu Laguerre who had this incredible performance on his debut for the Catalans. He is not from Avignon, he is from Marseille but he is from Provence and we are very proud of him.

“There are a lot of small clubs in Provence, people in small villages working hard to educate young Rugby League players, so I’m sure in the next few years we will see a lot more Super League players coming from this region.

The exposure of the French Rugby League was bolstered recently by an upsurge in live streaming of Elite One games and Jouffret believes this to be a rare hidden bonus from the pandemic.

He said: “I think what has happened this season with Covid ensuring that no supporters are allowed on the pitch is that there has been an increase in audience figures for online matches.

“Anyone with a laptop anywhere in the world can now follow the French Rugby League and watch the matches live.

“In recent months, we were the only ones in the world who could play. It was a closed season in England and Australia so a lot of people were watching our Elite One games.

“We were so worried that our sponsors weren’t getting the visibility they would like because the supporters weren’t allowed in, but they probably got more visibility than normal because they are now being broadcast around the world. whole.

“These people who invest their money in our clubs are the lifeblood of the game and it is fantastic that they can get their name out to so many people all over the world.

“They kept putting their faith in us and now they’ve had a reward.”

Jouffret thinks the reward is coming soon for the French match. The words of the famous song begin: “On the Pont d’Avignon, we danced there, we danced there” which translates as “On the Avignon bridge we all dance, we all dance”.

The Rugby League community in France will soon be dancing if it succeeds in its candidacy for a World Cup.

And then the gap could finally be closed on previously cloudy water for Rugby à Treize.

READ ALSO: Anthony Mullally: The idea of ​​winning another grand final after 2017 was like Everest

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