RugbyU: Racing 92 scrap merger with Stade Francais

by Nicolas KIENAST
Racing 92 merger with Stade Francais abandoned: Racing
Racing 92 merger with Stade Francais abandoned: Racing

Paris (AFP) - 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 on Monday in a bombshell move that players likened to a stab in the back.

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.

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.

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.

- Unrepentant -

"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.

But he was unrepentant about the project itself, saying the merger of the two clubs was the correct path to take and one "fiercely shared" by him and Lorenzetti.

"We are convinced, both ot us, that it is the right thing to do," he said.

Racing and Stade Francais were among the first clubs created when rugby union was introduced to France in the 19th century. Racing won the first championship final against Stade in 1892. Stade got their revenge the following year

Racing were languishing in France's second division when Lorenzetti bought them in 2006. Savare took over Stade Francais in 2011 when they were threatened with bankruptcy and relegation, but has now had them on the market for two years.

Both clubs have spent hundreds of millions of euros on redeveloping and acquiring new players since 2010.

Stade Francais's Jean Bouin stadium, owned by the city of Paris, was redeveloped in 2013 and reopened with capacity increased from 13,000 to 20,000.

Racing are building a new 220 million-euro 32,000-seat stadium in the La Defense business district. It should have opened in January but this has been put back to the end of the year.