South African teams will raise level of European competitions: French chief

South African teams will raise level of European competitions: French chief

The controversial introduction of South African teams into next season's European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup competitions should be welcomed, Rene Bouscatel president of the French Rugby League (LNR) told AFP on Saturday.

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European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR), the tournament's governing body, announced on Thursday five South African sides would enter the two competitions next season.

The Stormers, the Bulls and the Sharks will compete in the Champions Cup "following impressive campaigns in the United Rugby Championship", while the Lions and the Cheetahs will bid to lift the Challenge Cup.

Bouscatel, who when president of Toulouse saw the side win the European Cup four times, said their entry could only be good for improving the level of rugby.

"It is in the interest of everybody, including the players, that they cross swords with teams they have never played against before," said Bouscatel.

"That will raise the level of all domestic competitions, including the Top 14, and will also have a knock on effect on the national side.

"The advantage of this is it will see an improvement in the level of the European Cup by raising the standards of the domestic championships."

Bouscatel says it was inevitable in any case the South African teams would be part of the competitions.

"The United Rugby Championship had declined a bit and was dominated by the Irish provinces," said Bouscatel.

"It is the Celtic sides that wanted the South Africans to take part in it so as to improve the standard.

"Thus it is normal they play in the European tournaments. If they finish in the top places then they are qualified for those competitions."     

Bouscatel's opinion is not universally shared.

Vincent Merling, president of the newly-crowned European champions La Rochelle, said he is against it.

"We have totally lost our identity," said Merling on the eve of the announcement.

"You know the values of our club. This is totally against our way of thinking."

Bouscatel, though, hit back at such criticism.

"There are always traditionalists," he said laughing.

"Is the Tour de France still the Tour de France when it starts in Copenhagen?

"Competitions evolve.

"A bigger and better European Cup is important."

The players too are divided.

Stade Francais second row forward Pierre-Henri Azagoh saw both the upside and the downside.

"It will be a good experience to go there and play against South African teams," the France international told AFP.

"But it is true that it is not next door, that will take time to get there, it will be a little bit tiring but also enriching."

However, Racing 92 centre Henry Chavancy was non-plussed by the decision.

"This risks distorting the interest a little bit, and the history of the competition." said the 34-year-old former international.

"Personally I find this a little bizarre."

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