You may never have heard of Saint Pierre and Miquelon, but there's rugby there

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The French rugby club 4,300km from Paris

The ‘playing field’ was doing well to be described as such. Strewn with stones and dotted with grazing horses, the patch in the Saint-Pierre commune needed a lot of work if it was to ever become match-ready.

That was in 2007 and the would-be rugby stars on the islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelon had been inspired to start their own club after watching the Rugby World Cup in mainland France. Today, the small outfit has taken great strides.

No matter what they do, though, they will always be a very long way from the headquarters of the Fédération Française de Rugby. Because the islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelon lie near the Canadian provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador, with their capital of Saint-Pierre some 4,300km from the outskirts of Paris.

The French rugby club 4,300km from Paris

Under the sticks: SPM and Frederciton together (SPM XV Facebook)

With a nod to a past of colonial expansion, the archipelago is the only chunk of the so-called ‘French North American Empire’ or ‘New France’  that is still tied to the mainland in Europe. Buoyed at the cusp of Canada, it is a small dash of France in the northwestern Atlantic Ocean.

“Our founding president was Joseph Serra, a rugby enthusiast who has passed away,” the incumbent president Morgan Drake tells Rugby World. “Jo had a lot of friends in the world of rugby – he was from the mainland and had played for the French military team. From the very first years of our club’s existence, he succeeded in making us travel to the south of France and to see the XV of France. We were at the Stade de France for the Grand Slam in 2010.

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“We have managed to work hard to make our land usable. We have built a mobile home which serves as a clubhouse. We have created a good relationship with the Fredericton Loyalists (from New Brunswick, Canada) with whom we play a game every year. We don’t have any competition and being the only club on the island, we train all year round for the match.

“We have winter indoors because of the snow.”

With the last census recording a population shy of 6000, the team have had to convince whoever they can to take an interest in the game. In the first few years the club was largely made up of citizens from mainland France. Gradually they made inroads into schools, took part in charity events, took on other sports clubs in the archipelago.

The French rugby club 4,300km from Paris

Up in the air: A lineout contest (SPM XV Facebook)

Soccer and ice hockey are popular in the territory. So the group have taken on running clubs and donned their skates under the SPM XV banner. As Drake proudly explains, the club even brandished an ‘erotic’ calendar one year.

The last time SPM faced the Fredericton Loyalists, in 2019 – the third year in a row the clubs had met – they triumphed 49-28. The global Covid crisis has rendered a fixture in 2020 untenable, however Drake is hopeful they can plan for a June 2021 clash, with SPM likely to host.

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Recoiling from the pandemic, life in Saint-Pierre has mirrored that of the French mainland. Although the club president suggests there is no indication the virus is circulating their territory, the population have stuck to the rules, have masked-up and maintained a respectable distance from one another where possible.

With eyes on a Fredericton rematch, Drake adds: “It will be necessary to follow the evolution of the virus and the geopolic decisions of opening up territories like Canada.”

But what is it like being a member of the FFR, but being on the fringe of North America?

“Our relationship with the FFR is complicated,” he begins. “Because we are far away and few in numbers… It’s politics.

The French rugby club 4,300km from Paris

Politics: Former French PM Manuel Valls (far left) near Saint-Pierre, 2016 (Getty Images)

“But since the election of Bernard Laporte as their president, we have manage to obtain the same endowments as (others around) the national levels. Goodies, jerseys, balls.

“In the future we would like to maintain relations with Fredericton and why not meet other teams?”

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Between their youth, men’s and women’s players they boast around 50 members. Youngsters from 16 and up can come in and play, while the youth section covers kids from 5 to 15.

It has taken time to build what SPM now have. They relish the spirit of touring and rarely get a chance to face outsiders. When they do it’s a celebration. They are proud of what they have achieved out there aside the coastal fishing grounds.

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