There is a region in south-west France where the walls of bars and bedrooms are adorned not with pictures of Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele but Antoine Dupont, Cyril Baille and Romain Ntamack.

This is the 'Ovalie', a region where rugby is king, the world of the oval ball.

The village of Saint-Sulpice-sur-Leze, which dates from the 13th century and lies around 30 kilometres south of Toulouse, is just one example of this: with a population of just over 2,000 village life revolves around the fortunes of its rugby club.

The club has been going since 1912 and although they have never won any titles, there is always a good turn out when the team takes the field at the Gaston-Sauret stadium for their latest clash in Federale 1 -- the highest level of amateur rugby in France.

Last season they missed the chance for promotion to the National League when they narrowly lost a quarter-final play-off to Valence d'Agen. Given the size of the village, though, the club is punching well above its weight, spurred on by the enthusiasm of the community.

Off the field, a giant mural proclaiming "100 years of rugby passion" is a reminder of the village's love affair with the game and there is no doubt there will be a sizeable gathering at the club to watch France's World Cup opener against New Zealand on September 8.

The French have twice reached the World Cup final, in 1987 and 1999, but this time they are tipped to collect their first title.

Six Nations runners-up, Fabien Galthie's side have played some sensational rugby with captain Dupont the new general at scrum-half.

Apart from the All Blacks, France also have Italy, Uruguay and Namibia in their Pool A.

Their path to the final, however, is likely to hit a roadbump in the quarter-finals when they are likely to meet either defending champions South Africa or Six Nations champions Ireland - the only team to beat them since Australia in July 2021.

But with home advantage and the 'Ovalie' behind them, anything is possible for Les Bleus.


++ Ahead of the Rugby World Cup in France, Agence France-Presse asked 20 aspiring photographers from each country qualified for the competition to show one aspect of the rugby union culture in their homeland, with the help of Canon cameras who are sponsoring the tournament. From Namibia to Fiji via Georgia and Scotland this photo essay gives us a glimpse of the core values of rugby on five continents.