Tuesday, April 21, 2015

International Rugby: France to tour Argentina with Depleted Squad

Photo Rugby Rama
France's end of season tour to Argentina in June 2016 has been placed in danger. The two test tour is scheduled to go ahead but will coincide with the play-offs in France's Top 14 thus denying the French test team of players involved in the later stages of the competition. The LNR has scheduled the 2016 final for Friday June 24 at Camp Nou (pictured to the right) in Barcelona, Spain a day before Argentina is to host the second of two test matches against France. The clash of dates means no players from Top 14 clubs involved in the Semi Finals will tour Argentina.  

Today's announcement of the plans for the 2015-2016 Top 14 season confirmed the continued evolution of the world's leading domestic competition as the budget for the season increased from 121 million to 136 million. Due to this being a Rugby World Cup year an altered competition is to require an interval during the tournament. The French league will get underway on August 22 but will after four rounds the competition will stop during the pool phase of the Rugby World Cup. 

Rounds five-seven of the Top 14 are to then be played during the knock-out stages of the Rugby World Cup which means the twenty-six round competition will be well underway upon completion of rugby's show-piece event on Sunday October 31 at Twickenham. The season is to come to a close on June 24 with a history making Top 14 Final being played outside of France. The largest stadium in Europe, Camp Nou will play host to the Grand Final on Friday June 24. 

The announcement, however, did not come without a downside as it will have a significantly negative impact on the make-up of France's test squad for the two match tour of Argentina in June 2016. Los Pumas are scheduled to host France on June 18 and June 25, dates which coincide with the weekends in which the Top 14 Semi Finals and Final will be played. 

France's yet to be named future headcoach will therefore be forced into selecting a test team without the same four clubs involved in the Top 14 Semi Finals an Final. Current coach Philippe Saint-André's preliminary squad for the 2015 Six Nations championship featured players from ten clubs - Bayonne, Bordeaux, Castres, Clermont, La Rochelle, Montpellier, Racing Métro, Stade Français, Toulon and Toulouse. Of them Clermont, Racing Metró, Toulon and Toulouse had five players each selected.  

Together with Stade Français these four clubs make up the Top five of the current season thereby implying that France's touring party to Argentina in June 2016 will be significantly different if current trends continue. Of those involved in this year's Six Nations Uini Atonio, Loann Goujon, Nicolas Mas, Charles Ollivon, Rory Kockott, Rémi Tales, Rémi Lamerat, Sofiane Guitoine, and Scott Spedding were not at the five aforementioned clubs. 

The competitiveness of France in South America is likely to be brought into question long before the tour. Curiously it is to be Argentina's first home series since 2010 in which the headcoach will have full access to his players. Incoming tours in June 2012, 2013 and 2014 saw Pumas coaches denied access to the same European based players who were involved in the Rugby Championship.    

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