French invitation may tackle drain of talent

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The Independent Online

French representation in the Challenge Cup is to be doubled as the game looks at a series of measures aimed at stopping the drain of talent to rugby union.

French representation in the Challenge Cup is to be doubled as the game looks at a series of measures aimed at stopping the drain of talent to rugby union.

France have lost four internationals in the last few weeks, with the former Wigan forward Gaël Tallec joining Yaccine Dekkiche, Jean-Emmanuel Cassin and Freddy Banquet in accepting lucrative contracts from union clubs.

Although France showed signs of life on their recent Pacific tour and in beating Ireland 56-16 on Tuesday, there are fears that the code could be crippled there unless there is outside help. The first moves in that direction are the increase to four clubs invited into Britain's oldest competition from next season, with the other significant change allowing them to play in France, if that is the way the ties come out of the hat.

Four teams from France's second-tier competition will also be invited to play in a tournament against four from the Northern Ford Premiership in November.

The French Federation has also asked the Rugby League's director of rugby, Greg McCallum, to advise them on ways of resisting further predations from union. McCallum has used parliamentary contacts in Britain to argue that any government funding received by a sport should not be used to poach players or officials from another.

Some people, including the International Federation's head of global development, Tas Baitieri, believe that a revived Super League presence in France would be a valuable counter-balance to the threat from union. Super League officials met the French in February to tell them what would be required from a successful franchise bid, but that is likely to remain on ice until the completion of a strategic review of the game at all levels, which is likely to be in August.

Union's highest-profile recruit from league in Australia, Wendell Sailor, has muddied the waters by saying that he still wants to come to Britain on the Kangaroo tour this autumn. Sailor is in his last season with the Brisbane Broncos before joining the ARU, but claims he could still be a available for a final fling in league.

Wigan will be without the Irish captain, Terry O'Connor, who broke his nose against St Helens last weekend, and probably Brian Carney as well for the visit of Bradford tomorrow. However, they have Brett Dallas back from a broken hand and Francis Stephenson returning to the squad following a knee injury.

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