Provence & Côte d'Azur: Nice Rugby Club falls
Playing versus paying: Nice rugby falls
The RNCA bounced between hope and defeat for months as numerous new presidents and investors stepped forward with promises only to shy quickly away from the club's widespread problems. Now the verdict is in, and all hope of a future for the team is most certainly out.
Following a number of ill-advised signings and subsequent poor returns, the club found itself in hot water with debts building and a panicking president, Philippe Deffins. Following Deffins resignation in February this year, Tony Catoni took the reins of the club but was unable to revive the team and salvage a future for the players and fans - debts of a cool 1.5 million euros were suffocating the RNCA.
Controversy struck when local Socialist party leader Patrick Allemand slammed the club for appointing Deffins at the end of last season.
For several fruitless months, the club desperately continued its search for an investor, the elusive Mr X.
Several investors were rumoured to have shown an interest in the ill-fated rugby team but the financial black cloud over the club showed no sign of moving. "People were coming forward," said the Côte d'Azur President of France's Rugby Federation, Henri Mondino, "but no one was willing to have full responsibility for paying off the debts as well as relaunching the club." In early May, the City of Nice controversially severed its ties with the RNCA by completely pulling all backing of the club, leaving a mess of shock and devastation. The support network for Niçois rugby was gone and even Gilles Veissière, responsible for sports in Nice, was left questioning: "If the City of Nice won't pay it, the big question is who will?"
He publicly announced his fears of an alarming level of political involvement at RNCA and more than a few eyebrows were raised at the national regulating body, the French Rugby Federation.
Allemand alleged that Deffins had been "personally selected" by Mayor of Nice Christian Estrosi and had not been the choice of the club members - the people with the actual electoral power.
The club's financial awry was already public knowledge, but Allemand continued his tirade, accusing RNCA of "swallowing up around 3.2 million euros of public funding" through grants and loans given to the club by Estrosi.
But behind the scenes it appears the City of Nice was doing all it could to reassure the players that everything was going to be fine, even billing Nice's new stadium as a "two team arena": a venue for both football and rugby, designed to elevate Nice's football and rugby teams to the "highest level".
Dean Moxham, a player at RNCA for five years, says he is "gutted" by the fact the club is to fold. He has criticised the club's management and the local government for their lack of communication, revealing that consistently over the past few months, the number seven player and his team mates were "promised that it was all going to be alright".
In the months since Deffins dramatic and abrupt departure, Catoni tried to lead the team out of its ever-enlarging black hole, but to no avail.
Back in March, a player on the team spoke out about the drama, voicing the opinions of much of the club's board and supporters. "We're hoping for an investment," the player said, "but who is going to risk it?"
"Poor financial management is the root of all the RNCA's problems," admitted Mondino, "their debts were out of control and the red light - for us - was raised, enough was enough." With no investors in sight and the City of Nice withdrawing all connections with the club, the French Rugby Federation was ultimately forced to pull the plug on the RNCA.
"It is all a big nightmare really," said team member Moxham. The caving-in of the RNCA is a devastating end for the club, where team potential has always far outweighed the RNCA's financial difficulties; a sentiment echoed by Mondino who called the collapse "a bad dream", adding: "The worst thing is that RNCA is a remarkable team, they had players who had come from all over the world to play - what are they supposed to do now?"
Throughout the club's century-long history, the side has attracted top players from some of the world's best rugby nations. Even today, as the RNCA falls off the map, team members from South Africa, England, Ireland and Morocco will be wondering the same as Mondino, "Where now?"
The players have stood by their team, going for four months on 20 per cent pay, only to realise now that they had been left completely in the dark. Estrosi and Veissière both refused to respond to questions raised by The Riviera Times regarding the players' concerns, and they've also made no comment on the future of rugby on the Côte d'Azur, despite Estrosi recently being quoted that he would "continue the rugby school in Nice".
But Moxham is doubtful. "Estrosi is saying 'don't stress, the city is still behind the rugby school but if you chop off the head, it doesn't do much for the rest to survive." The one person who seems positive about a future rugby team in Nice is Mondino. "Restructuring will be a must but I see no reason why Nice can't play rugby again, we would even consider bringing in an English coach or manager," he told The Riviera Times.
This optimism, however, will do little to lighten the spirits of the professional players who find themselves stuck in the mud without a team and without a job, Moxham among them.
The New Zealander expressed his disappointment: "I was always confident that it was going to get saved but now I need to find a club for next year as soon as possible, and it's likely that I will be forced to leave Nice."
RNCA would have, ironically, been celebrating its 100th anniversary later this year. Having won a number of major titles in the second and third divisions, the team's greatest success was making it to the final of the Championnat de France - a nationwide championship - in 1983, but sadly missed out on the top spot to AS Beziers.But now, the city no longer has a rugby team and France has lost a prominent club. Both players and fans feel jaded by this miserable turn of events, and it will take a daring manager and side if rugby is ever to return to the Riviera again.
A number of players from the RNCA, including Dean Moxham, have been selected to take part in the Federation Cup, a nationwide championship in France. On 17th May, the Côte d'Azur collaborative team beat the Midi Pyrenees side 24 - 3. The collapse of RNCA is a bitter blow for the team but their successes in this cup prove the talent and skill of the RNCA was always stronger than those holding the money.