NEW HOME FOR DRAGONS

Last weekend’s game against Wigan saw Catalans Dragons return to the spiritual home of French Rugby League at Stade Gilbert Brutus.

Last weekend’s game against Wigan saw Catalans Dragons return to the spiritual home of French Rugby League at Stade Gilbert Brutus. The Dragons will be hoping for a better day this Saturday when the Rhinos are in town after torrential rain put a dampner on their return to Stade Brutus. The Stade Gilbert Brutus, the World Cup and international venue named after the France coach and selector who was tortured to death by the Gestapo in 1944, reopened after a £2.75 million refit to weather not seen in the Languedoc Roussillon region for years, although not uncommon to Lancashire. After spending the whole of their inaugural season ground-sharing with the town’s rugby union club, there is a new mood of optimism. "The French people are very proud of their heritage and for them going back to Gilbert Brutus is full of nostalgia," said Nicolas Rayer, the Catalans’ chief executive. "Rugby league was the top sport in Perpignan 30 years ago and it’s our aim to get back to where it was before. "The players were training in pre-war conditions in St Esteve but now they have got a new stadium with new dressing rooms and it’s a boost to their morale. "It’s a true rugby league stadium, with the stands very close to the pitch and you can feel just about every tackle." The main stand or Tribune Bonzoms has been completely renovated and now has 3000 seats distinctively in the colours of Catalans, blood and gold. Altogether, the stadium will accommodate 7000 seats and 2000 standing supporters. Bernard Guasch, the club’s charismatic president, meat-processing magnate and driving force behind the Dragons who continues to bankroll the club, said after a deluge ruined their plans for the Wigan game: "We had a rock concert and marching band ready and everything had to be cancelled. "It’s sad, but we had the Mayor of Perpignan here and he sees the possibilities. There are plans to expand the ground further and take capacity to 12,000. Believe me, rugby league is making big strides." Initial scepticism about the Dragons’ viability was swept aside by the £3.35 million pumped into the economy of the local area by 35,000 visiting British supporters last year. "Instead of rivalling USAP [Perpignan union club], we are working together. Our fans support them and them us. Rugby league is building its own identity at our ancestral home but in a spirit now of togetherness," Guasch said. Click here to see a map for the new ground.