French rugby clubs meet to decide whether to end season

Up in the air: scrumhalf Yann Lesgourgues scores a try for Bordeaux Begles, who may lead the suspended Top 14 but might not land the title

French rugby clubs were poised to declare their season over as they met on Wednesday to discuss their response to the country’s latest coronavirus restrictions.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told the National Assembly: “no large sports gathering, or any gathering, of 5,000 people or more, needing the permission of the local police and arrangements made a long time in advance, will be allowed before September.”

Even though France’s sports ministry told AFP that it was possible some matches could be played in August, the possibility of a resumption of rugby late in that month has suffered a blow.

It is understood that the league wants to discuss declaring the season over in the teleconference on Wednesday with the presidents of the 30 professional clubs, including the Top 14 teams.

Any decision would have to be ratified by the league’s executive board.

Many of those involved have told AFP that rather than holding playoffs behind closed doors with disorganised squads at the end of a truncated season, the league and the clubs were leaning towards ending the season.

That would leave the question of whether Bordeaux-Begles, eight points clear at the top, would be awarded the title, and whether they would be prepared to accept it, with nine matches and the playoffs left.

“Having only played 17 rounds, we won’t be asking for anything,” the club’s president Laurent Marti told French radio a few weeks ago.

“We won’t ask for it,” he said. “And if it’s offered to us, we’ll think about whether to accept it or not. It’s not a sure thing.”

If the season is abandoned, the issue of promotion and relegation would be decided by a league committee at a later date.

Even if games are allowed from September, the 2020-2021 season is already looking complicated for Top 14 clubs.

“If we decide to embark on the new season, we need to be able to do so with a certain number of guarantees, particularly in terms of the staging of matches and finance,” Thomas Lombard, general manager of Paris-based Stade Francais, told AFP.

“The clubs are going to be in survival mode for the next four months, as we haven’t had any income since March,” Lombard said.

“There are certainly government aid measures, but we still have costs to meet, starting with the salaries of players and administrative staff.”

The same goes for Montpellier.

“Everything suggests that we’re going to restart with a new season,” said coach Xavier Garbajosa, like Lombard a former France back, adding that, whatever the league decides, there are cancelled France internationals and the later rounds of the European Cups to fit in.

“There’s going to be a lot of games to squeeze in!”

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