This first candle acts as a compass. A light illuminating a now clear path. Attractive and reassuring music at the same time. A year. It’s so short on the scale of a lifetime. And yet, it can get quite old. Especially when the newborn takes the opportunity to get up and run towards a horizon that we thought was lost.
What was there before? A moribund XV of France groping forward, stumbling, falling, collapsing on sometimes even imaginary obstacles. And today? We can already see the Blues world champions in 2023. We know they are capable in any case of achieving the Grand Slam in this Six Nations Tournament which opens this Saturday with a trip to Rome where the Italians await them.
Raclette and osmosis evening
A real resurrection. It begins in Nice (Alpes-Maritimes), on the Promenade des Anglais, where the Tricolores have returned this year as if they had to celebrate their birth before relaunching themselves in the deep end. On January 20, 2020, Fabien Galthié, the brand new coach, summons his troop on the banks of the big blue: 42 players, 24 years old on average, 20 neophytes. The old folks are no longer there. Charles Ollivon was elevated to the rank of captain. Alongside manager Raphaël Ibanez, with whom he forms an increasingly tight duo, Fabien Galthié presents his staff, his assistants: Laurent Labit (three-quarters), William Servat (forwards), Shaun Edwards (defense), Karim Ghezal (touch), Thibault Giroud (physical preparation).
The page is blank. New words resonate. Sweat runs on the lawn of course, a little blood, obviously, but no tears. More like smiles. The kids get to know each other. The less young forget the past, the dark hours, the sad faces. A raclette evening is organized in a chalet in Colmiane, on the heights of Nice.
Without prohibited but without cell phone. “We felt fairly quickly, honestly, that we were creating something,” says Charles Ollivon. We were able to forge strong links. We no longer felt like we were part of a selection, we were a group of friends, as if we were in a club. There was a certain osmosis between everyone. Without that, I don’t know if we would have succeeded in doing what we did. It was the beginning of a story, we must not hide it. “
Muscles are in pain, so are the lungs
The heads are light and assimilate simple but precise patterns. Rest the hard part. The English, vice-world champions three months earlier, come to show off their arrogance at the Stade de France when the Tournament opens on February 2. They are carried away by a wave of freshness and sent back across the Channel to revise their copy. Rattez, Ollivon, Dupont and Alldritt, the third center line, new rock of this team, lead the dance, twirl on the ground and succeed their shot (24-17). The audience roars with pleasure. Finally. “It is there, against the English, that everything played out for them, underlines a close relative of the Blues. They said to themselves: But then, it is possible! They understood that everything would depend on them, that they could beat anyone. They saw that the very hard work in training paid off, and that they could follow this staff with their eyes closed. “
A week later, the Blues confirm without excitement against Italy (35-22). Then they won in Cardiff in front of the Welsh (27-23). A performance. A kind of revenge for this quarter-final lost four months earlier at the Japanese World Cup, even if many of them were not there. “A group is born”, slips Galthié. In the spans of the Principality Stadium in Cardiff, the word Grand Slam is no longer taboo.
Some Blues talk about it. But the latter then fall in Scotland (28-17), where the young pillar Mohamed Haouas is expelled; 18,000 French supporters awaited them singing at the entrance to Murrayfield, however. A necessary learning for the Blues who can still win the competition by dominating Ireland the following weekend at the Stade de France. The match will be played seven and a half months later, on October 31 due to a pandemic. The victory (35-27) will place them in second place behind… England.
In the meantime ?
A long night haunted by a virus has set in. Containment. The end of rugby, sport in general. Worry? Anguish? “We have kept the link with the players,” explains Laurent Labit, in charge of three-quarters. We called them to see how they were dealing with this situation. And within the staff, we each worked on our own, then presented our ideas by videoconference. Fabien Galthié’s message was very clear from the start. He set our goal to use this situation to make progress. “” I lived this period as a personal introspection, admits the coach. With the staff we continued to work remotely on our project without really knowing where we were going. “
Autumn drives away summer
The Blues, mask on the nose, find themselves as if nothing had happened. As if nothing could deviate them from their path. The Welsh were swept away in a friendly match on October 24 (38-21), then the Irish on the last day of the Tournament. Follow Scotland (22-15) dominated in Edinburgh, then Italy (36-5) in the Autumn Nations Cup, whose final opposes the XV of France to England at Twickenham. Due to the agreement with the National League, the XV of France aligns a B team against the English and only yields in overtime (22-19).
“This is the second crucial moment, with the first France-England, in the construction of this group, insists a close player. The replacements came back from Twickenham pumped up, thinking they had the level. And the holders who remained in France said to themselves that it was in their interest to work extra hard to keep their place. It’s a win-win for Galthié. The atmosphere is good because everything is still new for them and they are well supervised, but at the same time, there is already a lot of competition. “Which is expressed today under the Nice sun, while awaiting entry into the arena this Saturday. “The story started there”, blows the pillar Cyril Baille. One year ago. An eternity.
Article original de: www.leparisien.fr