“We are always in a hurry to be happy… for when we have suffered a long time, we have great difficulty in believing in good fortune.”
The timeless words of Charles Dumas’ novel The Count of Monte Christo, surrounds the current French Rugby team and most importantly of all, their loyal fans. The 2011 Rugby World Cup final seems an awfully long time ago. That gallant stand against the All Blacks that day seems to have been a watershed moment for the game of rugby in France and it has not been for the betterment of their game. Instead, their third final loss was the catalyst for the utter state French rugby finds itself in; utterly rudderless with no real plan and a bleak future.
The French rugby team I was privileged enough to see during the 90’s was something that filled me with both a sense of joy and bewilderment. They played a style of rugby so unique to them, you could never truly plan for it. The old adage of “which French team will turn up?” was a moot point. All you wanted to see was the French running the ball from behind their poles and back then, they could. Their forward pack was also the stuff of legend and guaranteed their exciting backs front foot ball to play with. It is what made playing against France such a tremendous occasion. They could be insipid, but they could also play the game no one else could, or defend against for that matter. Where has that panache gone?
Of course, the professional game is a quantum leap from the game played back then, however that inherent flair has always been part of their makeup as a team. Today, French rugby have no idea what that even is. The Top 14 has become the most lucrative league in the world due to private ownership but also, one of the most unequal in terms of finances, which has created a Wall Street type mentality between owners. Everyone has a price as they say and you certainly can’t blame the players for seeking lucrative paydays, especially considering the sheer brutality of today’s game.
Thus, you have owners almost creating their own world XV, by snapping up some of the best talent globally, and specifically, the southern hemisphere’s talent. This creates a blockage for young French academy players to gain experience by playing in the top division. Whilst at first, French rugby wouldn’t feel the loss immediately, their dire results over the past ten years lends credence to this argument. The erosion to some extent, for the next generation of French players to reach the standards needed to be able to compete in Test Match rugby.
France did recently win a u20 World Championship. However, those players that are being filtered into the senior squad, are now based in a team environment that has forgotten how to win. Hardly the environment to grow a young players’ international confidence and experience. An established rugby power like France with its vast resources and player stocks, should not be losing (with all due respect), to an impoverished rugby nation like Fiji, at home. All credit does go to the Fijians for that David vs. Goliath win; can you imagine the force that Fiji would be with half of Frances resources?
World Rugby needs a strong French side, who whilst not currently able, need to find deeper introspection and self-reflection as a rugby team. But not only as a team, but as an entity all moving forward under a common goal and playing style. French fans have endured neigh on a decade of losing and it shows when the cathedral Stade de France is half empty. The fans deserve more, with all of its vast riches at club level. What Bernard Laporte needs to do and understand, is that whilst they may have won the right to host another World Cup in 2023, the current state of play indicates that French will bow out at the group stages as the host nation, unless they find their French rugby revolution.
Written By Brandon Going