France to revamp leagues system
World Cup finalists France have begun a shake-up in their domestic competitions in a bid to catch up with the three southern hemisphere rugby giants.
The French league, headed by former France full-back Serge Blanco, voted on Thursday night to introduce a new format to their championship starting next September.
The championship, currently divided into two pools of 12 clubs each, will be played in a single pool for the first time.
There will be 21 clubs playing each other just once a season with ten matches at home and ten away. The fixtures will be reversed the following season.
The new format does away with quarter-finals, the best four going directly into semifinals in a bid to simplify the calendar.
Critics, however, say the change is not sufficiently revolutionary and that the top flight should be made up of less clubs, say 16 with home and away fixtures.
But Guy Noves, coach of champions Toulouse, is happy to see things move in the right direction.
"This will relaunch interest in the championship, all the matches will be important. I'd have preferred a formula with even less clubs and home and away matches. But it's already a big step in the right direction" he said.
The current championship continues this weekend with the return to their clubs of several of France's World Cup players after their 35-12 defeat in the final against Australia in Cardiff last Saturday.
Centres Emile Ntamack and Cedric Desbrosse, a reserve, will line up for Toulouse at Grenoble while prop Franck Tournaire and lock Fabien Pelous will at least start on the bench.
But Xavier Garbajosa, a wing for Toulouse but France's full-back during the World Cup, is out for three months with a shoulder injury, while prop Christian Califano is still under suspension.
Califano was suspended for seven weeks for head-butting during France's group match against Fiji in mid-October.