Peter Bills: Rugby clubs in France are more important than the national team

Talking Rugby... The rugby world’s first full 12 month season has just been completed. And it sets a precedent that ought to alarm top class players right around the world.

It’s official!

The rugby world’s first full 12 month season has just been completed. And it sets a precedent that ought to alarm top class players right around the world.

South African lock forward Drickus Hancke and his team-mates at French Top 14 club Montpellier finished their season last Saturday night before a 77,000 audience at the French Championship final in Paris. Alas, it was not a happy ending,

Montpellier losing 15-10 to Stade Toulouse and seeing their chance of winning the famous old trophy for the first time in the club’s history, slip away.



But sadness was allied with exhaustion. “I am absolutely shot, completely finished” admitted Hancke, the former Eastern Province captain. “When you play, you don’t feel it with the buzz and excitement of the game. But when you stop you feel so tired.



“I can tell you, the previous season ended for us at the beginning of May and we had four weeks off. Our first get together, the first meeting of this season for us was on June 1 last year. The final was on June 4 so that is just over a year. It is certainly the longest season of my career.”



Extraordinary. And it perhaps explains why France has never won a Rugby World Cup title. The French clubs make too many demands on the players. By the time they have finished with them, the national side can only pick up the pieces.



Yet this is a merry-go-round to which the players cheerfully subscribe. After all, they don’t complain at the handsome salaries the top players can command; sums such as the reported €1 million enjoyed by former French international Sebastian Chabal and the €750,000 South African Frans Steyn is said to have earned alongside Chabal at Racing Metro 92, the wealthy Paris club.



Hancke isn’t on money anywhere near that exalted level, yet he doesn’t deny playing in France represents “a great lifestyle”. He says “The clubs here do demand a lot from their players. I don’t think there is a harder league to play in than this one. But then, they look after them very well too.



“The club take a lot out of their international players because there is a lot of pride involved. The French are so passionate – they have an intense passion for the game. It is a passion that you don’t see often elsewhere.”



Indeed you don’t and viewing figures for the semi-finals and final of this year’s French Championship underlined the point. Just over 113,000 attended the two semi-finals in Marseille the previous weekend and another 77,000 were in Paris, making a total of 190,000.



That is a very significant number indeed, and the finances with best tickets in Paris for the final costing up to 120 euros and even quite ordinary seats priced at 73 euros, were equally impressive.



The clubs operate on significantly bigger budgets than their English counterparts, with the probable exception of Saracens, the new English champions, and Leicester. Toulouse’s budget is €29.53 million, Clermont Auvergne’s €21.65m. Racing Metro 92 in Paris has a budget of €18.94 million, Montpellier €15.8m, approximately the same as Biarritz Olympique.



Interest in the game throughout France is strong. For the Castres Olympique v Montpellier quarter final, hardly a game between two of the most glamorous sides in France, a TV audience of around 1 million was attracted, even though it was only on satellite TV. As someone said “No New Zealand rugby television audience commands that sort of number.”



Further proof of the interest in the club game compared to international rugby is the fact that ‘L’Equipe’, the widely respected French daily sports paper, sells more copies when the French rugby championship is reaching its climax than on international weekends.



Like soccer clubs in England, rugby clubs in France are much more important than the national team.



Given that fact, I wonder how long it will be before some top players curtail early their international careers to extend the lucrative contracts they have with their clubs or provinces.

News
people
News
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
News
politicsIs David Cameron trying to prove he's down with the kids?
News
Dominique Alderweireld, also known as Dodo de Saumure, is the owner of a string of brothels in Belgium
newsPhilip Sweeney gets the inside track on France's trial of the year
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Cumberbatch was speaking on US television when he made the comment (Getty)
people
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge, Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 pictured in 2011.
musicBassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker say Tom Delonge is 'disrespectful and ungrateful'
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'
tvBroadchurch series 2, episode 4, review - contains spoilers
Sport
cyclingDisgraced cycling star says people will soon forgive his actions
News
Britain's Prince Philip attends a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in London
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran will play three sell-out gigs at Wembley Stadium in July
music
News
i100
News
Lena Dunham posing for an official portrait at Sundance 2015
people
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
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

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea