Brice Dulin’s rugby career has occasionally been buffeted by turbulence, injury and the subjectivity of selection to a point where, aged 30, he appreciates how simply being content translates positively to the pitch.
Last summer, following the death of his father, he switched clubs from Racing 92 to La Rochelle, thereby renewing a relationship with Ronan O'Gara. Dulin had worked under O'Gara in Paris and has credited the former Lions and Ireland outhalf, now ensconced as head coach at La Rochelle, as a key figure in helping the fullback to regenerate his international career.
Dulin craved a new environment, to get away from the concrete confines of the capital city and instead embrace a change of pace in his life and a fresh challenge. At that point it was three years since he last played for France, the summer of 2017 against South Africa in Johannesburg.
A recent interview with French newspaper Midi Olympique explained his thought process around the move.
“For some time, I had felt the need to leave Paris and the first confinement [due to the Covid-19 pandemic] reinforced this desire.”
La Rochelle made an offer and the fullback was happy to relocate to the coastal city in southwest France and a chance to work again with O'Gara. Dulin explained: "When I arrived at Racing in 2013, I knew the player, not the coach. I knew the guy who had tormented France, whether in the Six Nations or in the European Cup.
“Ronan knows how to push me to get the best out of me and we know how to lock ourselves in an office to burst the abscess, when the need arises. It’s healthy and I like it. He’s [O’Gara] not as hard as he was in Racing but he has maintained a frankness that I like so much.”
The lifestyle away from rugby also appealed.
“When I take the car to train, I walk along the ocean, I stop for five minutes, I walk on the beach and it makes me feel good. I am happy.”
It wasn't long before French coach Fabien Galthie sought out Dulin. Philippe Saint-Andre had given Dulin his Test debut against Argentina in Cordoba back in the summer of 2012 and, despite missing the 2013 Six Nations through injury, he returned for the summer tour and retained the fullback position through to the end of the year, scoring his first international try against New Zealand and a second the following week against Samoa.
He retained that primacy in national team terms until the end of the 2015 Rugby World Cup – he started the pool match in which Ireland beat France at the Millennium stadium – but in the five years that followed up until the Autumn Nations Cup (ANC) managed just a handful of appearances.
At club level, having started at Agen, he won the French Top 14 with Castres (2013) and Racing 92 (2016). Despite being plagued by periodic injuries, his talent pace, footwork, kicking and an accomplished aerial game, for someone who is 5ft 9in, remained in evidence and Galthie picked him at fullback for the Italy and England games in the ANC. He was included in a shortlist for player of the tournament. The injury to Thomas Ramos is irrelevant.
Dulin said: “There was a long moment of absence [from Test rugby], a new generation has arrived and they have done some extraordinary things. I was the first to become a supporter watching them [but] am very happy to be part of this adventure. It’s a winning team.
“There is a new dynamic created, a new way of working. Coming to work after victories and good performances is always easier than after the years of famine that we have experienced in the past.”
Dulin has only finished on the winning side in 14 of his 32 caps.
He continued: “There has to be constant progress so that everything that has been done so far is capitalised by better results. Something new has been created. It is a lot of pleasure to come back to the group.”
Dulin referenced switching the pre Six Nations training camp from Marcoussis to Nice as hugely beneficial, the hotel perched overlooking the sea and with the sun on their backs, it fostered an enjoyable nice environment on and off the pitch. The upshot was a 50-10 victory over Italy in the Stadio Olimpico last weekend.
The fullback crossed for his seventh try in international rugby that showcased his acceleration to good effect. He was a standout performer on the day, a left -footed option in kicking terms, which the team used on occasions for impressive gains. Having played on the wing too he moves around the back three depending on pitch position, something that was evident in Rome.
He'll be hoping that it is third time lucky against Ireland having been on the losing side in 2014 – he scored a try in that Six Nations game in Paris – and the World Cup match in Cardiff the following year.
Ireland will be aware of his quality and the need to both kick judiciously and chase with care.