Rugby League: Rovers turn to the foreign legion: Dave Hadfield looks at the increasing influence of Frenchmen in British rugby league

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The Independent Online
FRENCH rugby league is seemingly always in its worst- ever state. The game there, hemmed in on all sides by the hostile and wealthy forces of the French Rugby Union, exists in a state of perpetual crisis. This summer has been a particularly hard one. The tour of Australasia, weakened by many leading players' opting out, was little short of a disaster, with defeats by Papua New Guinea and Fiji as well as the inevitable losses in Australia.

The domestic game is in disarray with defections to the better-paid union code and teams in traditional jeu a treize areas folding. France's greatest league legend, Puig Aubert, who died this summer, is already spinning in his grave.

Ironically, while the scene at home is so bleak, French influence in Britain has never been stronger. On Friday night, Patrick Entat, who looked world class behind a back-

pedalling French pack in the southern hemisphere, was at scrum-half for Leeds at Wigan. Today, David Fraisse will continue to forge arguably the most dangerous centre partnership in the game with Paul Newlove for unbeaten Bradford Northern against Widnes.

Workington Town and Wigan both have Frenchmen on trial; Regis Pastre, in his second season at Batley, is now a member of the pack that has taken them towards the top of Division Two; and, of all the unlikely places, Featherstone is home to not one Frenchman but two.

Rovers signed the Test second row Danny Divet at the end of last summer from Hull, who started the whole process more than a decade ago by signing the French winger Patrick Solal and later had Entat in their ranks.

Divet, born in France but brought up in Australia, has already proved that his ability translates well into the English game, so it is no surprise that he is emerging as an influential figure at Rue de Bureau de Poste, as Post Office Road might now be known. His two tries helped beat Warrington last Sunday.

Less predictable has been the success of Frederic Banquet, an Under-21 international from Carcassonne, who has earned himself a regular place on the wing and a long-term contract. 'It's always difficult because of the language,' says the Featherstone coach, Steve Martin. 'You sometimes have enough trouble explaining things to people who can speak English. But he is lucky that we have Danny here to act as translator. He is a good athlete and he has a lot of common sense, so he is a player worth putting some time in to.'

The length of time Rovers are prepared to invest in Banquet is steadily extending. Originally only at Featherstone for a month's trial, he has now been offered a contract for the rest of this season. If arrangements can be made for him to defer his national service back in France, that could turn into a two- or three-year deal.

For now, however, Banquet has done enough to retain his place against Salford today, despite competition from the returning Owen Simpson, and his enterprise and willingness to share in the hard work is an unexpected early season bonus for Rovers.