Wounded French still a potent force
But while Bru agrees that the Top 14 is part of the problem “it is also part of the strength of French rugby, because French rugby is not so dependent on the results of the French team. It’s like the English Premier League (in football). Even if the English team is not doing well in the World Cup they still have the Premier League . . .”
Back in 2006, on home soil, France won the Under-21 World Championship, but since winning the 2009 Under-20 Six Nations, they have finished fourth, second, second and currently lie fifth, having only beaten Italy. Since the IRB introduced the Junior (Under-20) World Championship, France have finished sixth, fifth, fifth, fourth and last year sixth, below Ireland.
Nigel Osborne is a coach with CBC Monkstown and Seapoint’s AIL team, and as well as being a consultant with Stade Francais, runs the rugbyandfrench rugby camp every summer in Soustons in southwest France, where his Irish players often encounter French under-age squads,” he said.
“Because of the culture of the schools cups and the success of Leinster and Munster rugby has become hugely popular, and in fairness to the branches the skills development in schools and fitness culture is very good. The game has evolved and become more multi-skilled, and fitness has changed. So when I see the Irish kids play the French kids, the Irish are more functionally fit. . .”
“The French don’t do rugby in schools, they do it in the clubs, and with the 15, 16 and 17-year-olds, there isn’t this peer pressure to eat correctly and to train hard. And it is very hard to change kids at 18/19/20, if they haven’t been educated from 13 onwards.”
“Even at the Top 14 level, there is an obsession with size, but they are not always functionally fit. When Michael Cheika first went to Stade one of his first tasks was finding somewhere where the players could eat more healthily at lunchtime.”
Stade Francais are also not alone in beginning to talent spot young players in South Africa. Clermont have twinned their academy with one in Fiji, while French clubs recruit from the under-20 World Cup.
“What we could see in the very near future,” says Bru, “is a guy like Virimi Vakatawa, who is at Racing Metro. He came (from Fiji) when he was 19 and now he has three-year residency, and . . . he wants first to try to play for France, because the money is there, of course.”
The new uncapped addition to the squad, Perpignan lock Sébastien Vahaamahina, was born in French Polynesia and was spotted when he came to France for an under-17 tournament. Fofana is of Malian descent. Yannick Nyanga was born in Kinshasa, Zaire. Fulgence Ouedraogo was born in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Mathieu Bastareaud was born to parents from Guadeloupe.
This trend will become more commonplace says Bru. “Yes, because you need people who want to earn money and who are willing to have pain to earn money. You will have less and less the sons of doctors in French rugby teams.”