European Rugby Cup: 30 years later, what remains of the Racing spirit?

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Much more than a side effect, a wink or a snub … If he is crowned King of Europe in England, in Bristol, against Exeter this Saturday (5.45pm), Racing will not only have achieved the goal he has set himself since the arrival of Jacky Lorenzetti fourteen years ago, he will have above all renewed the thread of an ancestral history, marked by his singular character and a line of conduct that is sometimes offbeat in rugby hexagonal.

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British, bourgeois, university… Racing is obviously a bit of all of that. He holds it from his birth at the end of the 19th century, between the walls of the Lycée Condorcet in Paris under the influence of British students. Its sky and white colors are also those of the team from the famous Cambridge University. So much for the roots. The flowers grew later, exactly a century. The spirit of the club was then enlightened by the pranks of a band of kids freed from the rough codes of a sport enclosed in the chapels of the South-West.

“Rugby was tough at the time in the mid-1970s,” says Jean-Baptiste Lafond, former full-back or international winger. I arrived at 15 in Racing, and it was, even at our level, compulsory suit, tie, outfit, class. We felt that we were taken for bourgeois. “

Flamboyant on the pitch, laughing and imaginative outside

Eric Blanc joined the club a few months earlier. “I came from the cities of Gennevilliers, a working-class, communist suburb, underlines the former three-quarters of the center. I was impressed, I was a little scared but I found, and it has never been denied thereafter, an incredible open-mindedness. We were all accepted in the same way. »With Yvon Rousset, Franck Mesnel, Philippe Guillard, they will found without really looking for it the soul of show biz, this joyous band of three-quarters eager for space and freedom. Flamboyant on the pitch, laughing and imaginative outside. Narcotic even when they mix the two and play in disguise. They put Basque berets on their heads in Bayonne, put on black makeup another day, in tribute to their teammate, the pillar Vincent Lelano, wear wigs, dye their hair yellow, put on white pelotari pants in Biarritz and above all play their finals of the French Championship (lost in 1987, won in 1990) with pink bow ties.

“You shouldn’t miss out on the pitch, laughs Lafond. Because we were expected everywhere like arrogant Parisians. We just wanted to live a beautiful youth. Ideas were flowing, there was no leader. Their leaders let it go. They are aware of the talents that are being shaped before their eyes. “The credit goes to our trainer Robert Paparemborde (Editor’s note: former international pillar who died in 2001), explains Eric Blanc. He was kind of our spiritual father. He was demanding, rigorous, but he was able to give us our freedom of expression. It has allowed us to become the people we are. “

“This team still exudes a certain class”

Patrick Serrière saw things from another angle, within a pack that was also imperial, but the giant second line, who had left his football club in Seine-et-Marne three years earlier to take up rugby at 21, experienced the same enchantment. “This generation had talent, panache, carelessness but they respected the history of the club, confides the current general manager of Racing 92. We were there to have fun, to play idiots, but also to succeed. This is a phrase from American writer Mark Twain that best describes this team: They didn’t know it was impossible so they did. “

What remains today of this Racing spirit in a sport that has become professional? “Already, it must be said that without Jacky Lorenzetti, the club would be dead”, insists Lafond. “He respected his history, continues Serrière. He called on alumni like me to lead associations and stay close to the team. When the players wear a blazer when they arrive on the lawn in Barcelona for the final of the French Championship in 2016, it means that the thread is not broken and that they too have a certain panache. “

Eric Blanc is on the same line: “Of course, things have changed today, there are social networks, the media frenzy, the whole days spent training. The players are forced to protect themselves, to close themselves off. This team nevertheless exudes a certain class, a flamboyance and it is full of freedom-loving talents like Russell, Imhoff or Thomas. And most importantly, it inspires respect. Like its predecessors.

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