France set to change approach as search for a 10 continues

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

5 thoughts on “France set to change approach as search for a 10 continues

  1. Sounds like a step in the right direction …. I have a vague recollection of a Rugby Club interview with Quins last year where they said they were 80% English qualified, so 60% doesn’t seem to high a target to aim for. But I have no idea what the as-is situation is, i.e. how many clubs fall short of the 50 and 60% marks and therefore how much of a change is required to acheive this.

    OK this may mean fewer opportunities for good club players to play in France, but top class internationals, such as the Welsh exports, are still going to be in just as much demand, perhaps even more so. So only change will be they will have to learn French to speak to their teamates.

  2. Whilst i’m not denying that the influx of foreign players may damage the national team if you look at it from a different perspective it doesn’t have to be the reason.

    So 4 french 10s started in the top 14. Thats still the same as the number who started for Ireland and Wales and twice as many as started for Scotland…

    On the fly half argument i think Trinh Duc is as good as Sexton, Priestland, Farrell and definitely Laidlaw on his day. I think hes been screwed over somewhat by selection/gameplans. Why was he dropped for Beaxis?

    They still have far more players in virtually every position playing top flight rugby than any other country apart from England. Perhaps if you looked closely at the players who lead the clubs they are all foreign and therefore the national teams have no leadership characteristics but i don’t think this is true.

    I think French under achievement is as much down to bonkers management (PSA seemed as crazy as Mad Marc) as foreign players. Dupuy over Parra… whats that all about?

  3. The holy grail for national selectors – a limited number of high quality imports raising the quality of the domestic game while not restricting the development of young native talent. If they get it right watch out!

  4. It’s interesting to see this against the contrasting approach of the IRFU which has now said only 15 non-Ireland qualified players will be allowed to play for Ulster, Leinster and Munster, with a maximum of 5 per team and 1 per position. So if Munster were to sign Dan Carter, no other foreign fly half could be selected by Ulster and Leinster. Connacht escape this as they are still trying to build a base as solid as the other 3.

    Each Union/Federation, call it what you will, has to come up with a solution, and the French one is a step in the right direction, but the fly half issue is somewhat similar to their issues in the front row over the past 5 years, where Georgian, Italian and Argentinian prop forwards have stunted the progress of young French props.

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