French rugby in rude health
December 29, 2007

France may not have won the Rugby World Cup but the club game there is going from strength to strength.

So says Simon Mannix, the former Sale Sharks and Gloucester Rugby fly-half now coaching alongside Pierre Berbizier at Racing Metro 92 in Paris.

The ex-All Black reckons a semi-final exit to England may have made the French team blue but the tournament itself has had a big impact on the domestic game.

"Rugby has really taken off and caught the imagination," said Mannix.

"It was a success, maybe not for the French team because they didn't win or perform very well, but with the public. There was a real uncertainly amongst the non rugby public about what it would bring but it opened a whole new world to them in terms of the atmosphere around rugby compared to football and the nature of the supporter.

"We have seen crowds going up, more people registered to play and sponsors wanting to get involved so the sport is riding high on the back of the World Cup."

Mannix also gives his own unique insight into French club rugby and looks back at his time in England when he was at the vanguard of the foreign legion in 1996.

"I was one of the first foreigners to arrive in England. There was Michael Lynagh and Philippe Sella (Saracens), Joel Stransky at Leicester Tigers and myself at Sale Sharks so there weren't a lot of foreign players. Those were the years - 96,97,98 - when professional rugby was formed in the UK and it was brilliant to be part of that.

"Now the Guinness Premiership is very strong and you have got eight very strong English sides whereas in France, when you look at the top 14, you have only got four or five. That's down to budget and how much these clubs are spending.

"There's no salary cap. A list came out recently of team budgets for France and Toulon, who are in the same division as us, sit fourth overall behind Toulouse and Montferrand - huge superpowers in rugby."

Mannix, having coached the amateurs of Romans in the South of France, is now at the heat of a push by Racing, currently fourth in Pro 2, to rejoin the elite.

"Racing Club come in at seventh or eight on that money list," he added. "They have set out a big project here with the objective of getting into the top 14. There's been a lot of money put into the club and structures in place. Of course we'd like to be top of the table but there's still 22 matches to negotiate."

For the full interview check the latest Gillette Rugby Podcast.

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