French rugby faces end of season

France Rugby (Twitter)
France Rugby (Twitter)

The French rugby season is likely to be called off on Thursday with the country's latest coronavirus restrictions limiting the sport's ever decreasing wriggle room.

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On Wednesday, the presidents of France's 30 professional clubs met via video conference to discuss the next stage of a domestic season which has been on ice since mid-March.

The National Rugby League (LNR) wants the season to be declared finished.

That now seems likely to be endorsed on Thursday during a meeting between the league, the French Rugby Federation (FFR) and the Ministry of Sports.

Clubs do not want behind closed doors matches and are against playing the final stages in September.

However, the FFR, LNR and clubs have sent a letter to French President Emmanuel Macron to alert him of their uncertain future.

French rugby's slim hopes of completing the season were virtually doomed on Tuesday when Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told the National Assembly: "No large sports gathering, or any gathering, of 5 000 people or more, needing the permission of the local police and arrangements made a long time in advance, will be allowed before September."

Many of those involved had already told AFP that rather than holding playoffs behind closed doors with disorganised squads at the end of a truncated season, the league and the clubs were leaning towards ending the season.  That would leave the question of whether Bordeaux-Begles, eight points clear in the French Top 14, would be awarded the title, and whether they would be prepared to accept it, with nine matches and the playoffs left.

"Having only played 17 rounds, we won't be asking for anything," the club's president Laurent Marti told French radio a few weeks ago.

"We won't ask for it," he said. "And if it's offered to us, we'll think about whether to accept it or not. It's not a sure thing."

If the season is abandoned, the issue of promotion and relegation would be decided by a league committee at a later date.

Already, the 2020-2021 season is looking complicated for Top 14 clubs.

"If we decide to embark on the new season, we need to be able to do so with a certain number of guarantees, particularly in terms of the staging of matches and finance," Thomas Lombard, general manager of Paris-based Stade Francais, told AFP.

"The clubs are going to be in survival mode for the next four months, as we haven't had any income since March," Lombard said.

"There are certainly government aid measures, but we still have costs to meet, starting with the salaries of players and administrative staff."

The same goes for Montpellier.

"Everything suggests that we're going to restart with a new season," said coach Xavier Garbajosa, like Lombard a former France back, adding that, whatever the league decides, there are cancelled France internationals and the later rounds of the European Cups to fit in.

"There's going to be a lot of games to squeeze in!"

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