One French coach's radical solution for completing the Top 14 season
New Montpellier boss Philippe Saint-Andre has revealed a radical suggestion to complete the currently suspended Top 14 season. The ex-France national team coach, who only started working at Montpellier on February 24, has been on partial unemployment since last Monday when his country went into lockdown to combat the coronavirus.
With no date set for the resumption the French league, the director of rugby at eighth place Montpellier doesn’t believe the remaining nine rounds of regulation season fixtures can be played. Instead, in an interview with French sports newspaper L’Equipe, he felt the emphasis should be on getting the June 20 semi-finals in Nice and the June 27 final in Paris played as scheduled – but with one intriguing twist.
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In order to ensure all 14 top-flight clubs can play again in the 2019/20 season, Saint-Andre has suggested the tournament be turned into a knockout format that would have twelve clubs – those currently occupying places three to 14 on the table – competing in a false round of 16.
The six winners from these two-legged matches would then join current top two Bordeaux and Lyon in two-legged quarter-finals. With semi-finals and final to follow, that would mean a six-week climax to the season rather than trying to cram in the backlog of postponed fixtures.
“My idea would be to return to an old-fashioned final phase with a ‘false’ round of 16 round-finals, round-trip quarters, semi-finals in Nice and the final at the Stade de France (June 26).
“The first and second in the regular phase would qualify directly for the quarters. The other twelve teams compete for six ‘false’ round of 16 matches. Yes, the Stade Français, current last, could be the champion of France, but we are in an exceptional season. We can’t go back to a classic Top 14 when you know you won’t be able to play all the matches.
“I base myself on the most optimistic forecasts which would allow us to return to play at the end of May after several weeks of reconditioning of the players.
“At the end of these final stages, we would share the stadium receipts between the 14 clubs fairly. When we get out of this pandemic, if the players’ health allows, we will have to celebrate a rugby party. With this final phase ‘as before’, we would interest our supporters who would immediately attend matches with something at stake.
“If the pandemic is longer and you can only play two games, it may be the first four in the semi-finals (currently Bordeaux, Lyon, Racing and Toulon). But it is very important that we organise the semi-finals in Nice.”
The presidents of the 30 professional clubs in France – Top 14 and Pro D2 – unanimously approved during a conference call on Wednesday the creation of three working groups to meet the challenges facing professional rugby in France. The groups will:
- Define sporting scenarios for the resumption of competitions 2019/2020;
- Evaluate the financial impact for the clubs and support them in the management of the situation;
- Adapt the regulatory and regulatory mechanisms of the NRL to the situation.
The Ligue National de Rugby steering committee will then meet on April 7 to make the first decisions, depending on the health situation in France and the possible deadlines for resuming competitions.
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