Rugby: the women’s XV of France comes out of the shadows



Whatever the result of the Women’s Six Nations Tournament, which begins this Saturday, March 26 (France plays against Italy on Sunday), French women’s rugby has already won the game. This is true for the French rugby sevens team, silver medalists at the Tokyo Games. As for the girls of the XV, who have piled up victories since the last World Cup in 2017, where they climbed on the third match of the podium.

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The following year, they followed up with a grand slam at the 2018 Six Nations Tournament, before continuing the following year with two even bigger victories. They beat for the first time in their history the Black Ferns (“black ferns”), the female counterpart of the All Blacks. They won another battle, symbolic this time, passing in the official documents from the name “Team of France women” to “XV of France women”. “For us it was a great victory and a strong symbol, we passed to the same rank as the boys”, explains Annick Heyraud, manager of the XV of France.

A more visible tournament

This year, the XV of France takes another step by participating in a tournament organized in the wake of the men’s tournament and no longer at the same time, as a curtain raiser or the day before. “It’s a very good thing for visibility, savors Brigitte Jugla, vice-president of the Federation, in charge of women’s rugby. The women’s tournament was postponed last year for the first time due to the pandemic, but the TV audiences, much better than during the old formula, convinced World Rugby (the international federation) to perpetuate the experience. »

This spring tournament, which falls into a low point in the sports news, is excellent for the morale of the players, who have been offered a sunny preparation camp in Corsica, far from the frost and the winter mud. The atmosphere is good in this women’s XV which remains on two new victories in the fall against the Ferns and is committed with optimism to the preparation of the World Cup, which will be held in October-November in New Zealand. . “We have never managed to grab a World Cup final, that’s our goal, and even better if possible”, continues Annick Heyraud.

Professional contracts

The 35 girls selected in the group have also recently been freed from financial worries, an essential luxury in high-level sport. Since 2018, the internationals have had a professional contract equivalent to three-quarters of the time allowing them, if they wish, to continue to carry out a small side activity during the off-peak season (many are physiotherapists, nurses or work in the person). “A giant step”, rejoices the manager, who owes a lot to the president of the Federation elected in 2016, Bernard Laporte, who has pushed women’s rugby a lot.

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In the light since 2018, while the men’s XV was stalling, the Bleues are not afraid to return to the shadows after the boys’ grand slam. “All the teams in France are nourished by the success of others, continues Brigitte Jugla. The federation works by objectives: in 2021 it was the women’s VII in Tokyo (male septists were not qualified), in 2022 it’s the Grand Slam for boys and the World Cup for girls, before the Men’s World Cup in 2023 and again the VII in 2024 in Paris. We put the means fully into a team, and it works, everyone benefits, including the clubs ”.

Clubs still fallow

Les Bleues carry on their shoulders the future of club rugby, still fallow. The women’s XV actually works the opposite of other team sports, where the France team feeds on the performance of clubs and regional leagues. In the female oval, it is the XV of France which pulls the wagons and not the clubs which push. “When we play for the France team we are pros, but when we return to the club, we become amateurs again”, humorously explains the international Safi N’Diaye on the FFR website.

The Federation has all the trouble in the world to set up a coherent club championship, with teams of comparable strength. To achieve this, it used the exact opposite path to that of football, where it is the professional clubs that finance the training centers with their own money. For rugby, the clubs come to draw from the academies financed by the Federation, where young female shooters aged 14 to 18 are springing up.

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Two Frenchwomen at the whistle

The progress of French women’s rugby also concerns the world of refereeing. Two French women, Aurélie Groizeleau and Doriane Domenjo, have been selected to officiate at the 2022 Women’s Six Nations Tournament. The first is very experienced, having officiated for three years at international level and regularly leads men’s Pro D2 matches (second division). The second begins at European level and will be content for the moment with appearances as linesman.

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