Change in rugby culture needed, say French, if they want to compete in sevens at 2024 Paris Olympics
Bowl victors have a fight on their hands to earn recognition and respect alongside the 15s game
It is not the ultimate prize of the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens, but the new owners of the Bowl hope it is a piece of silverware that can help solve a chicken-and-egg conundrum for French sevens rugby.
France trounced Canada 33-7 in the Bowl final on Sunday at Hong Kong Stadium, giving a team hungry for results and desperate for greater support some ground to stand on.
“We don’t have a sevens culture in France. We have this problem at the moment,” said coach Jerome Daret.
“We need to have some results to indicate to French rugby, for proof that Sevens is a good tool to build players.”
While Les Bleus enjoy top-dollar backing and the Top 14 – the French domestic league – is wildly popular, most support in France still surrounds 15s rugby. Sevens remains – quite literally – its poorer cousin.
Team captain Manoel Dall’igna was realistic about the predicament.
“It’s difficult. It’s the culture of our country,” Dall’igna said. “There is a lot of money in Top 14, so players prefer to play there. That’s why it’s difficult for us to have many players. We need more players, more high-level players.”
France has had little success on the sevens front, with two seventh-place finishes their best results in the World Series.
In six editions of the World Cup, the team have not managed a finish higher than fifth place. When sevens made its debut at the Olympics in 2016, France failed to make it past the quarter-finals.
With sevens now an Olympic sport and Paris to host the 2024 Olympics, the team know there is pressure to do much better.
At the very least, players can attest that support is slowly trickling in.
“Yes, there’s more money in Sevens now,” Dall’igna said. “But France is a weird country. We take time to change. I think we will have better performance in the future. Step by step, it takes time, (but) we have to improve quicker.”
The ambition is Olympic glory in front of a home crowd in six years’ time, but the team know there is still some way to go to close the gap with the sport’s superpowers.
A deeper pool of talent to work with, more competition exposure and greater administrative support are all on the wish list.
“We have a good team now, but we need to be more consistent,” Dall’igna said. “Six years – I think we can do it. It’s our objective.
“Now we’re 11th or 10th [in the world], and we want to win the Olympic Games. So 10 ranks – that’s the difference. We have to improve in every part of the game – on and off the pitch.”
Coach Daret thinks it is mainly a matter of big game experience which is hindering his side.
“We need experience. We need to win some matches,” Daret said. “We need to build some domestic competitions. We have some strategy with young players at the moment, we have connection with the 15s, too.
“We’re progressing in a good way. If we play like today with all our spirit, with our competence, with the team spirit, I think we have an exciting future.”