Rugby 20.3.2017 11:05 am

Former Bok stars safe as French giants call off their merger

Willem Alberts is safe ... in pink. Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images.

Willem Alberts is safe ... in pink. Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images.

Racing 92 and Stade Francais, two of France’s biggest clubs, cancel their plans after massive opposition to the planned move.

Several Springboks’ futures are secure again after French clubs Racing 92 and Stade Francais have scrapped merger plans that sparked outrage from top internationals, fans and officials, Racing’s president Jacky Lorenzetti said Sunday.

Billionaire businessman Lorenzetti and Stade Francais counterpart Thomas Savare announced the plan for the merger of the two Top 14 Paris region rivals last week in a bombshell move that players likened to a stab in the back.

No less than six Springboks – Willem Alberts, Heinke van der Merwe, Meyer Bosman, Gerhard Mostert, Morne Steyn and Craig Burden – are on Stade Francais’ books alone.

Also read: Merger of two French giants could leave various Boks jobless

It’s little wonder then elite stars feared for their careers following the announcement of the plan that entailed a loss of half the playing staff of the combined clubs.

The stunning U-turn came six days later after a storm of protest from players, fans, rugby officials and even the Paris city administration.

Racing 92 and Stade Francais, winners of the last two Top 14 titles, are two of the most formidable clubs in the French championship.

Opposition was so strong and came from so many quarters that Lorenzetti said he and Savare had been forced into an about turn.

“I renounce the plan for a rapprochement with Stade Francais. In agreement with Thomas Savare the merger will not take place,” said Lorenzetti in a statement.

“I heard and understood the strong reservations expressed in response to this project.

“In any case, the social, political, cultural, human, and sporting conditions were not in place. Perhaps we had the right plan too soon, only the future will tell.”

Stade Francais fans launched protests while players called a strike, refusing to train or play against Castres on Saturday, resulting in the match being postponed while Racing’s Saturday game against Montpellier was also called off.

Strike leader and Stade Francais vice-captain Pascal Pape, capped 65-times for France, described the move as the “death of 136 years of club history”.

The French Rugby Federation was openly hostile to the merger, saying in a statement it was “shocked to learn via the media” that France would lose one of its most historic rugby clubs.

Lorenzetti admitted that he had failed to do the groundwork in explaining his plan.

“I did not appreciate to what extent it was a top priority to explain and share my vision and to present the details of the plan even among the Racing 92 staff,” he said.

Savare said it would make “no sense” to go ahead with the merger given the strength of the opposition to it.



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