The Blues of 1991 had embarked a little on the spur of the moment, at the last moment, in a first Women’s World Cup in Wales that even the International Rugby Board – the governing body of the world rugby (now World Rugby) – did not recognize then. The outfits weren’t quite complete, nor was the technical coaching, and it wasn’t any better on the opponents’ side. The Americans, future winners of the tournament, had thus multiplied the odd jobs to pay for the trip.
“It was another time, another world”, smiles Annick Hayraud, then scrum half of this XV of pioneers. The now manager of the France team, who is starting the ninth edition of this Women’s Rugby World Cup this Saturday, October 8 against South Africa, can measure the progress made. “It took several years for the rugby family to recognize us, and many more to have the real means of performanceshe points out. We can consider that things evolve too slowly, but changing mentalities always takes a long time. »
In a very virile discipline, the steps are necessarily high, and the valiant ovalies have long watched the cousins of football, or those of handball and basketball, enriching their Olympic records. They only obtained the status of high-level sportswomen at the turn of the century and had to wait for the 2014 World Cup, organized in France, to attract the curiosity of the general public, then 2018 for the fifteen players to land their first professional federal contracts. . Poor relation of tricolor collective sport, women’s rugby?
At the level of the national selection, the delay is catching up. But, more broadly, the discipline is still waiting for its big night. In 2016, the structuring of the women’s sector is indeed included in the program of Bernard Laporte, candidate for the presidency of the FFR. After his election, however, it is the showcase of the France team which is privileged, the rest being jostled by other priorities, including the men’s XV.
“We may have been a little late in the ignition, but I came into 2020 with a mission to put the overdrive”, assures Brigitte Jugla. The former player of the 1990s, for two years vice-president of the FFR in charge of the women’s sector, is thus working on the move upmarket of a championship which is always looking for the right formula.
An ever-floating championship
A time reduced to eight clubs, then increased to 16 in 2018, upset by the Covid and again limited to 14 last year, it is set at 12 teams for the next season, which will be launched after the World Cup. “We must imperatively harmonize the clubs to avoid differences in level between themsays Brigitte Jugla. This is the condition for having an attractive product, which we can then present to distributors and future partners. »
To find this balance, the manager is betting on new specifications, drawn up with the clubs, to be tested next season before becoming compulsory in 2023-2024. It defines a number of constraints in terms of technical, medical, training, “in order to best support the players in their practice but also in their socio-professional development”, says Brigitte Jugla. Who, in the momentum, works on the development “a strategic development plan for the women’s sector by 2033”. A revolution ? At least visibility “a roadmap to finally target budgets and define areas for resolution”.
Knowing where to go, the clubs ask for nothing better. Because, for now, it’s still often every man for himself. A track emerges all the same: to rely on a professional men’s club. Seven of the twelve clubs in the Elite championship are now playing a more or less advanced rapprochement (in Bordeaux, Clermont-Ferrand, Grenoble, Lyon, Montpellier, Pau, Toulouse).
ASM Romagnat, champion of France in 2021, has thus established a partnership since 2016 with ASM Clermont Auvergne which gives it access to certain equipment for male professionals. “We remain independent, but this pooling is interestingcomments its president Marie Magignot. No doubt the future will involve more intense collaboration, because structuring oneself within the framework of the new specifications without money being put on the table will be complicated. »
Financial resources still limited
Co-founder in 2003 of the women’s section of AC Bobigby 93, the only club in the Ile-de-France in the elite, Marc-Henri Kugler does not say anything else. “We hold on thanks to our huge pool of players in our territory, and the support, in particular, of local communities. But there is no economy of women’s rugby yet. We are certainly getting closer to other high-level sports, but with a real-false amateurism, by helping the girls with accommodation, with match bonuses, by finding them odd jobs. And on this level, difficult to put all the clubs on the same starting line. »
Money, sinews of war, of course. AC Bobigny evokes a budget of 220,000 €, AS Romagnat between 400,000 and 500,000 €. In Blagnac, a finalist team in the last French championship won by Stade Toulousain, coach Nicolas Tranier speaks of 200,000 to 250,000 € dedicated to girls but included in the budget of Blagnac rugby, the men’s club playing in National (equivalent to the 3e division).
“Tomorrow, the clubs will probably not be able to professionalize 30 players, and that’s what makes all the difference with handball or basketball, but it will be necessary to contract some of them and probably also the coaching”believes the technician whose team is the one that provides the most Blue, with nine players present at the World Cup in New Zealand.
“In the meantime, everyone cooksregrets Marie Magignot. The Federation wants to put everything flat, but no doubt it will take time, and the current system is not really fair, when clubs like Blagnac, Bordeaux or Toulouse benefit from many players contracted with the Bleues while we we only have one. »
Moving forward together is the difficulty of a women’s rugby full of desires but still on the wire. “To pursue individualistic logics too much, we risk destroying more than buildingwarns Brigitte Jugla. I want to get everyone around the table so as not to miss the boat. Our rugby schools are full, and in June 2022 we had nearly 43,000 members, compared to 26,000 at the start of 2021. We are really on the right track. » Even if no one sees the end of the road yet.
A 12-nation Women’s World Cup
Since 1991, the Women’s World Cup has hosted 12 nations. But this 9e New Zealand edition is the last in this format. From 2025, the competition will host 16 selections.
The teams are divided into three pools. Pool A: Australia, Scotland, New Zealand, Wales. Group B: Canada, United States, Italy, Japan. Group C: South Africa, England, France, Fiji. The first two from each group and the two best third are qualified for the quarter-finals.
The Blue program: France-South Africa (October 8 at 3:15 a.m.), England-France (October 15 at 9 a.m.), France-Fiji (October 22 at 8:15 a.m.). The matches will be broadcast on TF1.