Earlier this year the very future of one of France’s most decorated sides, Stade Francais, was far from certain.
There was the failed merger with city rivals Racing 92 that wasn’t actually a merger. It was – would have been, had it succeeded – a takeover. A ravenous mutating Racing behemoth was ready to pick over the tastiest morsels of once-mighty Stade.
The plan failed, due in no small part to a player strike. So president Thomas Savare, who had been looking to offload the club for some time, stepped up his search for a buyer. He found one in June, in the form of German soft-drinks billionaire Hans-Peter Wild.
Wild has said he will invest €30million of his own money in the club over the next three years. But, while the long-term financial future of the club was secured shortly after the end of last season, the future was not so clear for many of its most valuable assets – its players (the club does not own Stade Jean-Bouin or its training facilities).
Uncertainty surrounding the club prompted players to look elsewhere. This summer, Hugo Bonneval and Raphael Lakafia left to join Toulon. Rabah Slimani joined Clermont. Pascal Pape and Julien Dupuy retired. Jeremy Sinzelle went to La Rochelle. Will Genia was released early from his contract to team up with Australia and, from 2018, Melbourne Rebels.
That spring and summer of discontent raised the confidence of rival clubs that they could tempt others away. Several have been hovering over centre Jonathan Danty, fly-half Jules Plisson, locks Paul Gabrillagues and Alexandre Flanquart, and hooker Rémi Bonfils – whose contracts are all up at the end of this season.
All five are especially attractive to French clubs right now due to tightening player quotas and a rediscovered desire among Top 14 clubs to be seen to be nuturing homegrown talent rather than bringing in overseas stars on lucrative pension plans.
It is no secret that Toulon boss Boudjellal is a big fan of Danty, while Plisson has long been courted by numerous clubs – notably Racing, La Rochelle and Bordeaux.
But it seems those circling clubs will have to look elsewhere. RMC Sport reported this week that Danty, Gabrillagues and Bonfils will put pen to paper on new three-year deals this week. Meanwhile, Rugbyrama adds that there are just i’s to dot and t’s to cross on similar long-term contracts for Plisson and Flanquart.
The five-deal salvo is more than just a powerful hands off from Stade. It’s a statement of intent. Keeping key players now on multi-year deals puts the club in a much stronger position when negotiating with potential new arrivals. All that remains now is to tempt some headline names to Stade Jean-Bouin…
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