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French rugby soul-searches before Newcastle’s visit to Toulon | The Breakdown

Europe has not always been the country’s priority and there are concerns over the health of the game at home, but France’s clubs still tend to shine in the Champions Cup

Newcastle’s last appearance in the European Cup was against Stade Français in Paris in the 2005 quarter-final and it is to France they travel on their reappearance this Sunday. At the start of the season, a trip to Toulon might not have presaged the happiest of returns; the club that won the tournament for three successive seasons earlier this decade only avoided dropping into the Top 14’s relegation zone last weekend because of a superior points difference over Agen.

French clubs have tended to put Europe second if fighting on two fronts undermines their campaign in the Top 14, still the holy grail for most in a country that has had a league system for almost as long as it has had rugby. Castres are a notable example, operating on a much lower budget than most of their rivals: they tend to exit Europe early but have won the league twice in the last six seasons.

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