Five days before the France-England match the news fell like ‘a clap of thunder’. France’s captain had refused to play.
No, not Guilhem Guirado, who while more than capable of standing up for himself is unlikely ever to refuse his country’s call. This was 95 years ago, and the refusenik was scrum-half Philippe Struxiano.
Struxiano had been France’s captain since the inter-forces internationals of 1919. In 1920, he had led them through their best Five Nations season yet, with no hammerings and a first ever away victory, a five-try 15-7 demolition of Ireland on a Dublin mudheap.
His own mulish qualities got him known as ‘L’intraitable’ — the Uncomprising One — and were made very clear in 1921. Ruled out of the matches in Edinburgh and Cardiff because of injury, he was recalled against England. Then came his refusal to play.
There were, he told L’Auto, predecessor of L’Equipe, several reasons. He was unhappy that he had not been allowed to travel with the team to Edinburgh, had then been chosen as reserve against Wales while still unfit and that, as captain, he had no role in selection. It was a time, renowned French journalist Henri Garcia has written, when French rugby officials increasingly treated players like employees.
A meeting with French Federation officials evidently produced a “frank exchange of views”, but Struxiano emerged saying “it’s fine, I’ll play tomorrow”, only to change his mind by the time he reached the Stade Colombes in Paris.
He remained adamant, withstanding even the entreaties of Marshal Foch, France’s most revered soldier, who attended the match to unveil a memorial to rugby’s war dead. Struxiano did not play for France again.
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