Larroyer’s delight as France named as Cup hosts
It feels like rugby league is coming home with news that the next World Cup will be held in France in 2025.
Yes, of course, the sport’s birthplace is Huddersfield but France was the inspiration behind the first such global tournament in 1954 and has such a rich history behind it.
Indeed, the silverware up for grabs is called the Paul Barriere Trophy in dedication to the former French Rugby League vice-president who was so influential in re-establishing the sport after it was banned by the Vichy government during the Second World War.
Despite that infamous past, it is fitting, too, that the spa town of Vichy – the base for German occupation back then – is one of the 38 towns and cities in France that has already expressed an interest in hosting games or teams in three years’ time.
As well as rugby league heartlands such as Perpignan, Carcassonne and Toulouse, other potential venues include Blagnac, Nice and Narbonne as well as places known for more famous things entirely: Le Mans and Lourdes.
It will be the first time since 1972 – coincidentally the last year a side from these shores won the World Cup when Great Britain prospered in Lyon – that France has staged the competition and comes when the sport is enjoying a real renaissance across the Channel.
Catalans Dragons finished top of Super League for the first time last season and also reached a maiden Grand Final while promoted newcomers Toulouse Olympique will join them in the elite when the new campaign gets underway next month.
One of the reasons the International Rugby League decided on opting for France was the strategic plan to help Les Bleus become more of a force in Test contests.
Clearly, with Australia, who have won eight of the last nine tournaments since ’72, New Zealand and England always in the reckoning and Tonga an increasing presence, seeing France develop further would only enhance the sport at international level.
Hopefully by staging the tournament there, it can drive the sport forward in multiple ways.
Someone who knows plenty about French rugby league is Halifax second-row Kevin Larroyer who played for France in the 2013 World Cup and hopes to again when the delayed 2021 tournament is held here this autumn.
“I didn’t expect it to happen now but I’m really happy with the news,” the 32-year-old told The Yorkshire Post.
“Finally, we get some recognition as a country. With Catalans Dragons coming into Super League in 2006 and, this year, Toulouse joining them, I do think now is the right time and it will be massive for the sport.
“It is great to have the World Cup in France. The challenges start now in terms of organising an event which we can remember but which will also leave a legacy.
“If you don’t leave a legacy after a World Cup in France, then what’s the point? But there’s so much potential and I think it will start this season: crucially, we now have a French derby in Super League.
“If the people in charge at Catalans, Toulouse and the French Federation market that game properly, a real rivalry can be created. If we get to 2025, and we have that as a massive game on French soil, it could be huge for the World Cup.
“To me, it all starts today. They need to start having conversations with key stakeholders, high profile people from across politics and sport, with lots of communication and a big marketing plan to try and push it through for then. It is exciting.”
The former Hull KR and Castleford Tigers forward, who was born in Toulouse, added: “In the 2013 World Cup, we played New Zealand in Avignon and there was a sold-out 17,500 capacity but if you could have fitted 40,000 people in there, it’d have been full.
“It was sold out in Perpignan as well. There is a demand. Even in 2012, when we played Wales in the football stadium at Lens in north France, we had 12,000 in a region where nobody really knew what rugby league was.
“There is a big chance to go to places where rugby league isn’t really on the map and an opportunity to deliver a great tournament. I’ll be 36 and too old by 2025 but I am targeting playing this year. We need France to go far in this World Cup, and if we can maybe get to that last-four stage it could be huge in terms of increasing participation, TV potential and greater interest.
“The young generation is coming through now for both Catalans and Toulouse who are really talented sides. It’s been 50 years since the last World Cup in France and it will be really positive for the sport to finally see another one there in 2025.”