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OPINION | From Puig Aubert to Jason Baitieri – a sad state for French rugby league

On Friday night at Wollongong’s WIN Stadium, the French national team were comprehensively beaten by their Australian Under 23 counterparts 62-4.

It was a gun Australian team which will migrate into the national squad over the coming years. Kalyn Ponga, David Fifita, Angus Crichton and Victor Radley are players waiting in the wings for national selection.

But the mess of France at international level and their inept performance would have their greatest all-time rugby league player, Puig Aubert, turning in his grave.

The writing is well and truly on the wall for the French game

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The writing was on the wall earlier this week when captain Jason Baitieri sensationally quit the national squad over the lack of professionalism.

“I cannot continue to play and sacrifice my body for a President and a Federation with whom I do not share the same dimension of values, respect, equality and above all honesty.”, Baitieri said.

There is a division between the French Federation and French rugby league clubs over availability of players.

While there’s a host of players in the Super League including Theo Fages, it was a missed opportunity for Sydney born and Toulouse Olympique star Mark Kheirallah to play his fourth game for his adopted nation.

At the previous two Rugby League World Cup tournaments the French have posted just one win, coming against Papua New Guinea at Hull almost six years back.

There was nothing to be excited about in their Rugby League World Cup Nines efforts in Parramatta last week, nor to suggest a turnaround in attitude was coming anytime soon.

Where is rugby league at in France?

At a club level, Catalans Dragons didn’t have an impact in Super League this season. Taking the game away from Stade Gilbert Brutus to Nou Camp in Barcelona was great. The behaviour of players and fans in the Warrington Wolves game a couple of months back tarnished the image of the game in France.

Toulouse Olympique are a solid competitor in the second-tier Rugby League Championship with some exciting talent. Being knocked out one game before the Million Pound Game was no disgrace. Like Toronto Wolfpack, they could be a genuine competitor worthy of Super League status but it would have to be at the expense of Catalans.

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Of course rugby union dominates the landscape in France and the recent World Cup in Japan has confirmed that, with the national side’s only loss coming at the Quarter-Finals stage of the tournament by a lone point.

What should happen?

This is where the Rugby League International Federation need to step in and play a mediator role to ensure that France put out their best side at national level with the endorsement of the clubs.

Hopefully Baitieri’s withdrawal from the national side is a “call for help” that cannot be ignored any longer.

If the French are to continue to compete there must be change, otherwise the game dies.

As For Puig Aubert

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Puig Aubert was a colourful character of the French game. Born in Germany, he turned out 46 times for his nation between 1946 and 1956, amassing 361 points at the top level. He will be forever remembered as a talented player who didn’t mind having a smoke during the game.

Long live Puig Aubert!

 

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