French rugby agrees to end Top 14 season

France Rugby (Twitter)
France Rugby (Twitter)

French rugby authorities and club presidents on Thursday reached an agreement to cancel the current domestic season due to the coronavirus pandemic and concentrate on ensuring the 2020/21 campaign starts in September.

France's National Rugby League (LNR) said that after discussions with the presidents of top-flight Top 14 and Pro D2 clubs it had abandoned plans to hold a final phase of matches at the end of August.

"We propose to declare that this 2019/20 season is at an end and focus on organising the launch of the 2020/21 editions of the two championships from September 2020," the LNR said in a statement.

The season was halted in mid-March due to the COVID-19 outbreak, which has killed over 24 000 people in France.

The decision to end it still needs to be rubber-stamped by the league's steering committee on a date that will be announced in the coming days.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced earlier this week that professional sport could not take place until September in the country.

It now looks likely the season will end without a champion being declared and without relegation or promotion.

Bordeaux-Begles were eight points clear in the Top 14 standings with nine regular-season games left to play. 

Bordeaux hinted last month that they were not keen on being awarded the title in such circumstances.

Deciding who takes part in European competitions looks set to be complicated.

Defending French champions Toulouse, who sit seventh in the current table, suggested allowing eight teams rather than six to qualify for the European Champions Cup.

But the tournament organiser (EPCR), according to several sources, does not want to change the format of its flagship competition.

Another option could be for the teams placed fifth to eighth - La Rochelle, Clermont, Toulouse and Montpellier - to compete in playoffs.

Lyon president Yann Roubert said on Thursday that it was a "huge shame" that the season would be cancelled.

"It is a terrible blow not to see our immense work and investment justly rewarded at the end of the season with a third semi-final in a row," said Roubert, whose team were second in the Top 14 before the season was cancelled.

"That loss of the chance to bring the shield home will be hard to take."

Well-financed Paris-based club Stade Francais were bottom of the Top 14 at the time the season was stopped and their general manager Thomas Lombard fears financial difficulties without matches.

"We have had no money coming in since March. There are some government measures but we have lots to pay out, first and foremost in wages," he said.

The league hopes to start its new season, which already promises to be a busy one, on 5 September.

"Between the games of the French international team, the final stages of the European Cup, the summer tours that would not take place ... it will make a lot of matches to cram (into a short space of time)," Montpellier coach Xavier Garbajosa told AFP.

Clubs must present plans to the sports ministry about what health precautions they will take for players, including how to help them regain match fitness.

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