Already demoted from the Top 14, cash-strapped Montauban face an uncertain future after being relegated into the Federale leagues
So farewell then, Montauban. The green and blacks of the Lot et Garonne, demoted from the Top 14 last month due to financial mismanagement, look set to lose their place in the professional elite after the French league's financial watchdogs the DNACG decided that the club could not guarantee that they could meet the financial demands of a season in Pro D2.
It's only two years since Montauban came within three minutes of pulling off a shock win at Munster's Thomond Park in their one and only Heineken Cup campaign, but next season, as the amateur US Montalbanaise, they'll be tramping round their corner of southwest France in the Federale leagues. The best club officials can hope for now is that they meet the standards required of Federale 1. If not, the French Rugby Federation could force them as low as the fifth tier of French league rugby, Federale 3.
Stade Sapiac officials have 10 days to make their appeal, but after spending nine months trying to fill a €1.3m shortfall in their finances, they may decide to cut their losses, abandon the professional game for the moment and spend the time making sure the club is fit for Federale 1 rugby.
The drop won't come without some pain for the sizeable town. Most of the club's non-playing staff will lose their jobs and the players - those that are left after the initial demotion sparked an exodus - will be touting their talents around the two professional leagues.
A loan furrow
The club's season decended into financial chaos when it proved unable to pay a €1.3m loan secured on a new stand after it was decided not to expand the Sapiac ground after all, and the town council refused to help alleviate the debt, causing a rift between club officials and the mayor. Patrick Vianco, now the last president of the club's professional organisation MTG XV, refused to blame the affair for causing the collapse of the club, instead blaming a loss of sponsorship, the financial crisis, a Heineken Cup hangover and a string of missed opportunities for financial gain for the initial problems.
"We worked hard to draw up a €5.5m budget for Pro D2, but the DNACG has refused us our place in Pro D2. The result is now obvious: MTG XV must declare itself bankrupt and disappear from the professional leagues. Stade Sapiac will live on in the professional leaguesthrough l'Union Sportive Montalbanaise."
USM president Serge Gros warned that other clubs may yet suffer Montauban's fate, but was surprisingly optimistic about the future of his own club.
"Professional rugby cannot sustain itself on the proceeds of the game - gate receipts, season tickets, TV rights and small partnership deals aren't enough. Even the clubs who only have one major sponsor or who are not realistic will disappear. I think they know they are on borrowed time.
"I want to reassure all the players, trainers, directors and our school of rugby that we will continue as USM in all the FFR's age-group competitions. Our training centre will continue to exist, and all the young players should stay to help us climb back into Pro D2 next season.
"We are going to build a new USM and draw up a new budget under the banner 'Pro D2 in 2011/12', and we'll be meeting all those professional players who plan to stay at the club."
Aix marks the spot
If there is a bright side to all this it's a few hundred kilometres away in Provence, where Aix, relegated from Pro D2 last season, look likely to retain their place in the second tier. Pays d'Aix president Lucien Simon was grateful for the stay of execution but aware that if they were to stay up, it would be better to find out sooner rather than later.
"I feel like someone who went on holiday to [French industrial town] Longwy and ended up in the Bahamas. If we are saved it will be very late and sometimes there is too late - we don't know yet whether Montauban will appeal but in any case we will be looking at recruiting the 10 or so players we will need for Pro D2," he said.