Brigitte Jugla is the name to follow in French rugby. She has been appointed head of development for women’s rugby, so has taken on a huge brief.
Many of her concerns find an echo in Britain.
For her the great leap forward began in 2014 when the World Cup took place in Paris. Since then only the pandemic has slowed the onward march of women’s rugby. She wants to create a system where every young girl starting to play rugby has the chance to become an international.
As a member of the World Rugby council since 2018 Jugla has an overview of the current situation given to few other people. For a start, the women’s game must be separated from the men’s.
The FFR has set up several committees to examine the future of women’s rugby in France. She sees her task as undertaking an audit to assemble all the findings and decide the best route forward.
She stresses three approaches: the development of women’s rugby in general, raising standards and placing women in positions of authority.
She wants more competitions to be made available. France has its championship and the 6 Nations, nothing else. World Rugby’s target of a global calendar is an essential step in the right direction. The calendar year can be filled up sensibly; Sevens and Tens are attractive alternatives during gaps in the schedules.
Heroes are crucial; young girls need to have examples to follow – she mentions Marjorie Mayans and Safi N’Diaye as prime examples – just as young boys can idolise Antoine Dupont or Romain Ntamack.
At elite level she wants to see a levelling up of standards across all the clubs, from playing to the support facilities. This is a familiar concern in England, where the Premier 15s’ regulations demanded a fully professional back-up staff. The one element missing there was a levelling-up of finances.
Reshaping the French Elite clubs is still in the air. The original plan was to provide two leagues of 12 clubs, Elite 1 and Elite 2. But the clubs have asked for an Elite 1 of 14 clubs for next season, with the precise shape of Elite 2 open to negotiation, one or two pools being possibilities.
Jugla is concerned that it is always the same few teams who figure at the top of the pile (Montpellier, Stade Toulousain) with one or two others (Bayonne, Blagnac) attempting to dethrone them. A pattern familiar in the Premier 15s.
To an English eye that total of 24 clubs looks barely feasible, but the FFR is attempting to narrow the gaps in standard between the different levels. With the abandonment of all rugby below the elite level in England, there has been no way of telling how playing standards might have developed over the last year. In France as many as sixteen clubs were able to enjoy a season of fixtures, even if the programme remained incomplete.
Jugla has been at pains to improve the links of clubs at lower levels to the FFR by undertaking meetings and discussions. They can then feel themselves more closely integrated to the central body and have their requests heard.
Establishing an effective pathway from beginner to elite is a vital concern. There is a drop away around the age of 15 which she wants to overcome. Through schools, clubs and academies she intends to ensure that every girl wants to continue in the sport and that talent is properly recognised and promoted.
The academies in particular have seen an enormous growth in numbers of participants and quality.
It’s fascinating to see how a major European rugby union is planning its future. In many respects France’s aims are identical to those in Britain, but the detail is different.
Can we look forward to seeing all the remaining six nations announcing their own versions of a brighter future?