Championship Focus: Sylvain Houles stays but other changes ahead at Toulouse Olympique

Toulouse Olympique coach Sylvain Houles has signed a new contract to guide the French club through a return to the Championship and hopefully plot a swift return to Super League.

The 41-year-old is in his tenth year in charge of the Olympians and club CEO Cedric Garcia says that there is “huge relief” that Houles had decided to continue, despite his disappointment with relegation from Super League at the first attempt this year.

“Sylvain really needed time to rest and reflect upon the season,” says Garcia.

“On the management side of things, with all that happened to us, last year was really tough, so it was important that we gave him time to make his decision.

“It’s not just that he is a fantastic coach; he has all our values and that is so important to this club.

“His game plan this year had to be changed because of events beyond our control. His vision is expansive rugby, with freedom for players to entertain the fans.

“It’s the Toulousain way, just like the football and rugby union in this city; we like to play with flair and style.”

Heading in the other direction at the club is President Bernard Sarrazain, who is looking to step down next year after ten years in charge.

“Bernard is now 71 and he has expressed for a while to the Board his will to step down as soon as the right person comes along to take over,” explains Garcia.

“There is some interest from members inside the Board, which is really interesting, and if everything goes well Bernard will finalise the current financial year, make sure everything is neat and tidy and in the first trimester of 2023 there should be a new Chairman in place.”

Garcia says there is a buoyancy at the club following Houles’ extension and the recent support shown by RFL strategic partners IMG towards French clubs and the international game.

“France is important for England and IMG have agreed that it is difficult to have teams coming from the southern hemisphere all the time, so the idea is to build up a strong France-England rivalry at all levels.

“The international game is the one that generates most media, TV coverage and visibility.

“To have a strong French team you need to have strong French clubs and it’s clear that IMG believe in us.

“The fact that over 71 per cent of people surveyed by IMG were in favour of French clubs continuing in the competition is huge.

“Often we tend to focus on the negative and we can forget the positives. This was a major survey and most people who responded were in favour of the French clubs’ participation, which again gives us legitimacy.”

Garcia agrees with IMG’s view that the French clubs should be looking at creating revenue for central funds to help towards travelling costs for UK-based clubs.

“We do not yet generate revenue from France for the game but we bring other things. If we can create revenue, it gives us that legitimacy and we are part of the strategy for the first time.

“It’s a long road to bring in that revenue; we will continue to work with Catalans and the French Federation towards a television deal. But now with IMG on board and the prospect of a French Rugby League World Cup in 2025 we have a unique opportunity.

“It won’t be easy; the French TV sports market is a difficult one, so we need all the help we can get and we are really humble about that, but hopefully we can reach an agreement that will be good for everyone.”

Garcia says that Toulouse’s staff and players will be keeping a close eye on their colleagues’ progress in the World Cup over the next few weeks.

“Seeing Toulouse players in the World Cup is huge, it’s the biggest event in Rugby League and to be involved is fantastic.

“We have a lot of pride in seeing our players compete at the highest level and we’re proud to have played a part in helping these players develop their skills.

“We had many young players in the France B side who did so well against England Knights. I spoke to Hugo Pezet following the game and he was thrilled to be taking part. He said the experience for him was massive.

“The exposure for our game, and for individual clubs like us, is worldwide. The international game drives every sport, so we’re happy and proud to see some of our players taking part.

“We’ll be watching them very closely.”

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