On a balmy Wednesday afternoon, among the vineyards of the Corbieres commune in the Aude Valley, a most unlikely cross-code challenge occured in Rugby, a ‘Treize heartland.
The town of Lezignan welcomed union giants Stade Francais in a pre-season training initiative with FC Lezignan, current holders of the Elite Rugby League Championship.
Aurelien Cologni’s FC Lezignan had the advantage, with the game being played according to 13 man rules but somewhat modified for their union guests with the game played over three 20 minute sessions and with a five metre advantage rule.
Nearly 5,000 spectators packed the ancient but atmospheric Stade Du Moulin to see their green and white heroes battle the ‘pink invaders’ from the country’s capital, Paris.
The final score fell in favour of Stade Francais 32-28, but was not surprising given the Stade Francais playing roster is worth close to 20 million euros compared to FC Lezignan’s modest 800 thousand euro squad, which was also packed with the club’s juniors and two retired players.
It was great to see the two codes collaborate the way they did in a country that has not always had the Treizistes and Quinzistes seeing eye to eye.
No doubt Stade Francais and any union supporter who made the journey to Lezignan would have been impressed a crowd half the size of the town turned out to welcome them.
Though used to playing before bigger crowds, they would have been shown a glimpse of old fashioned sport as it was before the big money changed the face of their game in France forever.
This is something rugby league in France has yet to experience, apart from the Catalan Dragons who play in the English Super League.
It will be a challenge for the game to ensure a balance of tradition and involvement of the ‘village’ clubs continue at a high level if and when bigger city investment and clubs ever come along.