by Steve Brady
THERE are lots of reasons why people come to visit this beautiful part of France – sunshine, mountains, beaches, great food and wines etc, but there’s also a lesser-known attraction that brings thousands of visitors each year, particularly from the north of England… Rugby League.
Le Jeu a Treize (game of thirteen) as the French call it, is the lesser known code of the oval ball game. It is very popular in Wigan, Leeds and Hull but few are aware that it is also played in Perpignan, Carcassonne and Toulouse.
The Catalan Dragons are a professional side who play at the top level of the game – the English Super League. Based at the Stade Gilbert Brutus, they regularly attract thousands of fans from England to watch matches in Perpignan, along with a passionate crowd of vocal locals.
Every other Saturday, supporters from Warrington, St Helens and Castleford fill the bars and cafes of Perpignan and assemble at Le Castillet before marching to the ground to watch the match. Then the following week, the club charters a plane and flies to England for the return fixtures.
Toulouse are hoping to play in Super League next year too, so more supporters should be heading this way very soon.
There are dozens of semi-professional and amateur clubs in this region. Lezignan, Villeneuve, St Esteve, Palau, Limoux, Albi and Avignon all compete in the French Elite One championship and there are numerous junior and women’s teams all playing within the foothills of the Pyrenees.
Rugby League has been played in France since 1934 when the game split from Rugby Union and changed some rules including cutting the number of players in the team from 15 to 13. There is a French national team (nickname Les Chanticleers “The Singing Cockerels”) made up entirely of players from this region and a national governing body, the Federation Francais De Rugby a XIII.
Rugby Union is the more popular sport throughout France but League has a strong foothold in the south-west corner.
My wife and I are big fans of Rugby League, and big fans of France. So we’ve put the two together and here we are.
“Our favourite game in our favourite part of the world.”
Catalans Dragons’ next home fixture is on Easter Monday against Huddersfield, followed by the big game of the season, Wigan on Saturday 7th April.