The stunning merger between Racing 92 and Stade Français can create a club that “maybe be better than any other in Europe.”
Monday’s news came as a shock after both squads were informed, before Jacky Lorenzetti (Racing) and Thomas Savare (Stade) held a join press conference to confirm the merger.
Details from that press conference did not include a name for the new club but did reveal a location, with Savare confirming that the new club will continue to play at Stade’s current home the Stade Jean Bouin until October, before moving to the newly-constructed Arena 92.
Reactions have certainly been mixed, with players speaking out on Twitter and the mayor of Paris reportedly furious over the development.
Lorenzetti stressed in the press conference that the move was not simply Racing 92 buying Stade Français, but judging by the comments from Stade Français supporters and players who gathered at the Stade Jean Bouin on Monday, it feels like an acquisition.
“Today we do not know what to say,” was the reaction of long-term Stade second-row Pascal Papé to Rugbyrama.
“We have to show that Stade Français is a family, it is not someone who is married to anyone, it is not a decision one takes alone or in pairs. It’s a family decision. And today, the family has not been consulted.
“This is a very bad decision. I respect Thomas Savare enormously but today he disappoints me by his behavior which is far from human.
“If we must die with arms in hand, I shall die with arms in my hand. Believe me, there is hope. Do not let go.”
J'ai beau vérifier on n'est malheureusement pas le 1er avril…. ???
— Henry Chavancy (@HenryChavancy) March 13, 2017
— Hugo Bonneval (@hugobonneval) March 13, 2017
Ou comment tuer toute une histoire, tout un club. Des joueurs, un staff sportif, mais aussi administratif. Tous les jeunes, les supporters.? pic.twitter.com/szjmerWOdZ
— Slimani Rabah (@slimrab89) March 13, 2017
Savare is set to be the new club’s president for the first two years, before Lorenzetti takes over, and the two will now sit down to form next season’s squad, from a total of around 90 players into 45.
“We wanted to make this announcement early to allow all the players non retained to be able to prepare for their future,” said Lorenzetti, although the middle of March is not exactly early in European rugby’s recruitment cycle.
Those players left without a club will face a stressful period searching for new clubs and homes, despite in some cases being originally contracted up to 2019.
— gavin mortimer (@gavinmortimer7) March 14, 2017
At the heart of the merger is a desire to build a European superpower, capable of competing deep into the Champions Cup year after year while maintaining Top 14 success, something that Stade Français and Racing 92 have struggled to do after becoming champions in 2015 and 2016 respectively.
“There is a desire to build a side that can maybe be better than any other club in Europe,” the Stade Français deputy chairman Richard Pool-Jones told the BBC.
“Of course there is the financial aspect to it, which is very important but there is a positive side of combining forces so we can win titles.
And the harsh reality is that for those players not certain to be retained, they are all now playing for the jobs when the two clubs play each other in the Top 14 next month.
“I think that’s a fair assessment,” he added.
“Sport is about competition and players know there are financial challenges for both clubs. This is a shock, it’s not a particularly comfortable place for any of the players, but it’s where we’re at.”