Last Friday saw the Top 14 transfer window officially open, bringing with it the confirmation of several transfer rumours that had been circulating in the previous months. Of the transfers or potential transfers named by L’Equipe, 33 of the imports were from clubs based outside of France, including star names such as Delon Armitage, Pedrie Wannenburg, Andrew Sheridan and possibly, Alex Cuthbert.
The inequality with regards to the salary caps of French and British clubs is a story so old it does not need re-telling. Indeed, since the emergence of millionaire owners Mourad Boudjellal with Toulon and Jacky Lorenzetti at Racing Métro, the outlay of foreign imports into the Top 14 has dramatically increased, with good outcomes as well as financial disasters.
Generally given the depth of French squads, when it comes to international selections the assumption would be that French management would have no problems in finding enough players to be competitive. But following a disappointing Six Nations campaign this spring in Philippe Saint-André’s first season in charge, the damage to the national side’s development given the number of ineligible players for national selection has meant that in many circles, a backlash is beginning.
This in particular has come with regards to France’s lack of depth at 10. François Trinh-Duc and Lionel Beauxis were both used during the Six Nations but failed to give displays with enough conviction to ensure they would continue to start. Going back to the Rugby World Cup, Marc Lièvremont was so uncertain of who should dictate France’s gameplan from fly-half that he picked Morgan Parra. Of the 14 clubs in the league, 10 started with foreign fly-halves last weekend – Brock James (Clermont), Santiago Fernandez (Castres), Luke McAlister (Toulouse), Shane Geraghty (Brive), Felipe Contepomi (Stade Français), James Hook (Perpignan), Jacques-Louis Potgeiter (Bayonne), Conrad Barnard (Agen), Juan Martín Hernandez (Racing Métro) and Jonny Wilkinson (Toulon).
With their other Six Nations competitors all producing young talent at 10 – Owen Farrell, Johnny Sexton, Greig Laidlaw and Rhys Priestland are all 26 and younger – the LNR & FFR have decided to act by introducing the JIFF system, where 50% of each team’s squad must be eligible to play for France. From 2013/2014, this will increase to 60%. JIFF players must have trained in one of the club’s academies for three seasons, or have spent five seasons registered with the FFR before they turn 24. It means that as a result, domestic players will be worth more, in turn reducing the number of foreign imports.
Whilst many Welsh fans may be despairing at the upcoming exodus of their stars to the fortunes of the Top 14, there is national success to remain proud of. With the ghost of the Rugby World Cup final still haunting France however, international redemption is in demand. Saint-André is fully aware of the need to develop a long-term option at number 10, with Jean-Marc Doussain, Nicolas Bézy and young Enzo Speloni competing for the role. With a change of emphasis from external galacticos to internal development, France may finally discover their new demi d’ouverture.
by Ben Coles