Stade Francais to strike over Racing merger

Nicolas KIENAST, Pierrick YVON
1 / 4
Stade Francais players believe the merger with bitter rivals Racing 92 to be an unequal partnership which will favour Racing and called on their supporters to rally behind them at the club's Jean-Bouin stadium in Paris

Stade Francais players have voted in favour of unlimited strike action in protest at a planned merger with bitter Paris rivals Racing 92, club vice-captain Pascal Pape confirmed on Tuesday.

Pape, a 65-times capped France international, slammed the fusion of the winners of the past two Top 14 titles into one super club as "the death of 136 years of the club's history".

Players voted overwhelmingly -- at "99.8 percent" -- for the action and will not train or play in Saturday's Top 14 clash against Castres, he said.

The action comes a day after Racing's billionaire owner Jacky Lorenzetti and Stade Francais counterpart Thomas Savare made the bombshell announcement.

Stade Francais players believe the merger to be an unequal partnership which will favour Racing and called on their supporters to rally behind them at the club's Jean-Bouin stadium in Paris on Monday.

The plan was hatched in secret behind the back of the players, French international Jonathan Danty said earlier Tuesday.

"It's hard to swallow," said Danty, 24, the Stade Francais centre who is training with the French team for the Six Nations match against Wales in Paris on Saturday.

"We were always told we were the future of the club and that if we left, the club would be in danger. And now we find out they did this behind our backs," he said.

Rival clubs expressed fears over the creation of a new super club while the French Rugby Federation and the Paris government complained they had been kept in the dark about the move.

- Wielding the axe -

Lorenzetti paved the way for a cull of players, saying half the combined roster of professionals could be axed.

"They've got 45 players, we've got 45 players, 45 + 45 = 45," he said.

"Merit will be the criteria, probably youth and the factor of being selectable" for France, Lorenzetti said.

Danty, along with teammate Djibril Camara, also in the squad for the Wales game, took part in a protest by more than a dozen players and a crowd of more the 100 fans against the proposed merger at the Jean-Bouin stadium.

Both players left the Marcoussis French national training centre in the southern suburbs of the city without asking permission from coach Guy Noves to travel to the protest but said they would take the consequences for taking a stand against the merger plan.

"I take full responsibility for going there. I don't know if Guy was in agreement or not but I doubt it, said Camara. "If I am punished, so be it."

Camara, who plays fullback, said his future was up in the air.

"Maybe next year I will be somewhere else, maybe in Federal 1 (third division)," he said.

He said he had had no contact with Stade owner Savare.

"Who? Don't ask me about that after he just screwed me over."

He said the merger of the two rival clubs was like asking two families who hate each other to move in together.

"We are all shocked, all sad. This is two top 14 clubs finished."