Peter Bills: French rugby needs a reality check

For anyone seduced into believing that four French clubs in the last eight of the Heineken Cup reflects the altogether superior quality of rugby being played across the Channel this season, a reality check is required. Either that, or a visit to the men in white coats.

You can use this fact as one arbiter if you wish. Or you can use the other fact that the French national team was utterly destroyed, 59-16 in Paris last November by an Australian side that had just lost to England by a record margin.



As ever, the truth lies somewhere in between the two. But what is undeniable is that this has been, thus far at least, no halcyon season for the game in France. Very far from it, in fact.



Some of the stuff served up in the French Top 14 this season, would invite derision among a Third division audience. Mindlessly negative, boring tactics in which the ball continues to get belted up and down the field all game long is hardly an indicator that the French game has anything much to crow about.



I can tell you now, the one certain thing France’s four Heineken Cup quarter finalists have had in common this season is this. They’ve all played some abject rugby a lot of the time, been excoriated by their own supporters at various stages and felt the lash of their coaches’ tongues.



Maybe the greatest indictment of the French Top 14 is that a club as erratic as Biarritz currently stand fourth, just one win and a bonus point short of second place. There can be no greater rubbishing of the French game this season than that fact.



Half the time, Biarritz are useless. The other half, they’re a potent force with a powerful pack, a speedy back three and a valuable playmaker in Dimitri Yachvili. But any team that puts Damien Traille at fly half and tries to convince onlookers that he’s a serious operator and not a joke, must be having a laugh.



Biarritz are this season what they are every season – all over the place. They’re a disgrace one week, sublime the next. Yet such traits ought to condemn them to mid-table mediocrity, not a club with aspirations to the leadership of the Top 14. That says everything about this devalued league.



Take Perpignan, another Heineken quarter finalist. Champions of France in 2009 and runners-up last year, they’ve won only 7 of their 16 Championship games this season, which leaves them nearer the bottom than top of the table.



And in those 16 matches, they have achieved the magnificent total of, er, one bonus point. Yet this is a team that boasts one of France’s finest attacking centres, Maxime Mermoz. It’s a matter of conjecture how long he will stay at so misfiring a club as this.



Toulouse are top of the French Championship yet inexplicably collapsed in a heap at London Wasps last Sunday, which condemned them to a tricky away quarter final against Biarritz in San Sebastian. How on earth they did that with a full strength side against a poor team that had lost limply at Glasgow the previous week, defies belief.



But then, even though they’re Championship leaders in France, Toulouse have already lost five and drawn one of their 16 games. They haven’t torn up any trees thus far in the season.



That leaves Toulon, conquerors of Munster and destined for a quarter final against Perpignan in Barcelona. Again, a league record of nine wins and seven defeats hardly suggests immortality.



But Toulon reveal the reason why the French clubs have by far the greatest number of representatives in the Heineken quarter finals. They have overseas players coming out of their ears. From Englishmen Jonny Wilkinson and Paul Sackey to Australians George Smith and Matt Henjak to South African Joe van Niekerk, a couple of redoubtable Georgian props and assorted other foreigners, Toulon are more like an international XV.



It is that expertise and quality that has taken them to the last 8, not native French flair.



The French Top 14 is chiefly a battle between the clubs with the biggest budgets. The rugby played is, in the main, old style, tired and boring. It amounts to players beating each other up among the forwards and trying to win penalties from which a handful of supreme kickers extract maximum advantage.



The refereeing is uniquely hopeless, crassly inefficient. And for all this, players earn handsome salaries.



If English clubs are looking for lessons on success, they would do well to look elsewhere. Only vast sums of money have propelled four French clubs into the Heineken quarter finals. It’s got nothing to do with the quality of rugby they play.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
film
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
News
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
people
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas