‘I take no pleasure in plight of English clubs…honest!’: French rugby chief revels.

Holding court in his luxurious, open-plan Parisian office, the man running the best domestic competition in world rugby has a blunt message for his struggling English counterparts.

Rene Bouscatel, President of France’s TOP14, states, “What has been corrosive within the English game is that the economical product was prioritised over the sport.”

In France, we built our product and competition around the sport first. We produced a financial gain from that achievement. Not the other way around.

“The English are marketing gurus!” But a quality product is necessary if you want to sell. Our rival is the product we have created. There have been two champions from Europe in a row. Our league has a lot of appeal.

It most definitely is. In France, rugby is positively booming.Although Fabien Galthie’s national team tragically lost the World Cup in their home country in the quarterfinals, the nation has a thriving sports scene.

Players find the TOP14 to be a very alluring tournament in terms of money and competition. It’s so wonderful that several English stars who have given up on international rugby have already crossed the Channel to try it.

National head coach Steve Borthwick has seen Jack Willis, Jack Nowell, Sam Simmonds, Henry Arundell, David Ribbans and Joe Marchant all move to the TOP14. Kyle Sinckler and Lewis Ludlam are set to follow them.

Meanwhile, in England, the Premiership lost three teams to financial oblivion last season in Worcester, Wasps and London Irish. The contrast is huge. The chasm is gaping and ever widening.

Bouscatel continues, “The English clubs have had challenges with quite a few players coming to France.”

“I’m not sure it’s good news for rugby in general, but it’s good news for the clubs that are signing them.” There have been highs and lows for each of us.

In the early days of professionalism, England was ahead of us, but they are currently suffering difficulties. Taking advantage of these challenges by forcing a large number of English players to play in France is detrimental. They are a great asset to the clubs, but I don’t think English rugby benefits from them.

It’s not healthy for any of us. Competition is essential. You need teams that are on par with your opponents. I have no delight in seeing English clubs suffer.

‘I probably shouldn’t say this, but Bath is a good example. They are supposed to have been building a stadium for the past 25 years. I have been there countless times and they show me the plans every time, but I haven’t seen it. I always have to take my umbrella there as it rains a lot.

‘I mean this in the nicest way possible as I’m a friend of Bruce Craig’s, but they are dreamers there.

‘We will never rejoice in the difficulties of others. Health in sport is precarious. We have experienced lows, but now we are in the highs.

‘With the English clubs it’s a real shame. The English were the only ones to have the same competition as us but perhaps creating a better second tier might have been good.

“There is a club ready to take their place immediately if we lose a TOP 14 club for financial reasons.” A wide variety of clubs are starting to emerge. I adore it. Rugby is played worldwide.

Other factors contributing to the success of French rugby include stringent regulations for financial oversight and the minimum number of French-qualified players required in a team’s matchday roster.

In its top two divisions, France has 1,900 professional players spread among 30 teams. The TOP14 declined a private equity investment offer because of how ill-prepared it is.

La Rochelle have won the last two Champions Cup titles and are eyeing a third straight success as European action returns this weekend.

While the Premiership, Six Nations, United Rugby Championship, and New Zealand Rugby have all sold significant portions of their businesses to CVC Capital Partners, and Silver Lake has done the same with New Zealand Rugby, France continues to go ahead on its own, secure in the knowledge that they do not require outside assistance.

“I’d prefer not to talk to investment funds because I don’t know them.” Bouscatel continues, “I would be too afraid of them taking up 27% of the league.”

“Our television audiences are expected to surpass those of the previous year, and our stadiums are fully occupied.” Every match brings in seven to eight percent more money than it did prior to the World Cup, and television viewership has increased by ten percent.

‘The World Cup has improved us. The semi-finals of the TOP14 are in Bordeaux next year. In four days, we sold out both matches. For the final, in one morning, we sold 17,000 tickets.’

It’s not surprising that Bouscatel, the guy in charge of a flourishing organization, beams and chuckles during the conversation. He notes that each club in the TOP 14 is allowed to spend a maximum of €10.7 million on their playing roster.

“What is the cap on English salaries?” Bouscatel queries.

The former Toulouse president’s face lights up broadly once again when he learns the answer is £5 million, which will increase to £6.4 million for the 2024–25 campaign.

“Yeah, a fiver!” he exclaims, giving his French competitors one more shove.


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