Written by Callum Walker
You think of French Rugby League, you think of Catalans Dragons and Toulouse Olympique – two sides that have become incredibly stable Super League and Championship clubs respectively in the past decade. With a whole host of Frenchmen in their ranks, one would be forgiven in thinking that Les Tricolores would be much more competitive on an international scale.
The last time that France made any kind of impact in a major tournament was in the 2000 World Cup when they finished fifth out of 16 teams. Since then, the French have exited at the group stages on two occasions and the quarter-finals in another. And, they have failed to qualify for four out of five Four Nations tournaments since the competition began in 2009.
Despite being European Champions in 2018, the three other sides included in the tournament – Ireland, Wales, Scotland – are all behind them in the rankings, making such a tournament victory very likely.
France last met England in October 2018. That ended in a 44-6 defeat at the Leigh Sports Village. Yet, that team was littered with French stars including Catalans’ Tony Gigot and Jason Baitieri, St Helens’ Theo Fages and Toulouse’s Paul Marcon and Bastien Ader.
Remarkably, just two of those in the French 17 that day – Valentin Yesa and Bastien Escamilla – were not playing for a Super League or Championship side. Despite this plethora of Rugby League talent in France, you have to wind the clock back to 1985 to find the last time that the French Rugby League side beat England or Great Britain. So, why do Les Tricolores continue to disappoint?
— Fédération Française de Rugby XIII (@FFRXIII) March 13, 2020
It can’t be said that the French national side haven’t had good, honest head coaches either. John Monie – who coached Wigan to four consecutive Championship and Cup doubles in the 1990s – was at the helm for four years with Super League stalwarts John Kear and Richard Agar also taking the reins for a while.
Current boss and former Catalans player Aurelien Cologni is currently at the helm, though that appointment didn’t exactly go to plan at the last World Cup with defeats to Australia, England and Lebanon cutting short France’s tournament at the group stages.
It appears there is something fundamentally wrong with the French national setup as a whole. If such talented players and motivating coaches have been unable to stop the decline of the national side, then an inquiry from top to bottom is needed to save Les Tricolores from permanent international obscurity.