Rugby: France puts faith in experience

23rd August 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Aug 23, 2007 (AFP) - France's Webb Ellis trophy hopes are being spearheaded by a quartet of players that can call on an impressive combined total of 306 caps and 130 years worth of experience.

PARIS, Aug 23, 2007 (AFP) - France's Webb Ellis trophy hopes are being spearheaded by a quartet of players that can call on an impressive combined total of 306 caps and 130 years worth of experience.

Veteran forwards Fabian Pelous and captain Rafael Ibanez will lead the pack while Christophe Dominici and Yannick Jauzion are the senior heads among the backs.

And if they are to be successful, those four players will need to be at the top of their game, and at their most influential.

Captain Ibanez is enjoying a second wind in his international career having originally retired from the global game in 2003.
That was after France's heart-breaking semi-final defeat against England at the last World Cup. Ibanez left his heart, and his tears, on his sleeve that day.

After the tournament was over for the French, he and Pelous fled to the hills, so to speak, retreating to the Blue Mountains just outside Sydney for a time of contemplation.

Ibanez has had a long and distinguished career in the French national team since making his debut in 1996. He first captained the side two years later as France underwent some major reconstruction following a humiliating 52-10 defeat to South Africa on home soil.

Ibanez's retirement lasted only two years and he came back in 2005, since when he has pushed up his number of international appearances to 92, equalling the world record for a prop, alongside New Zealand's Sean Fitzpatrick.

Loch Pelous, the man who Ibanez recently succeeded as French captain, is the world record caps holder with 112, a marker he set during the 22-9 victory over England in Marseille last weekend. Although that is not something he cares to talk too much about.

"It's done, the record is beaten. Now we move on. It doesn't matter if it's the 11th, 100th or 90th. I'm not yet ready to take stock of my career."

Like his fellow 33-year-old Ibanez, Pelous is a man who leads by example. He took over the French captaincy in 2000.

He has had to take some knocks along the way, both physical and emotional, losing his place during 2001 and 2002 due to a dip in form and then more recently missing out on the 2007 Six Nations due to injury.

But he has always bounced back, perhaps because of his undying love for the game.

"There is not one morning when I don't want to go to training, even in winter, when it's cold," he said.

The elder statesman in the French team is 35-year-old Dominici.

He is best remembered for a scintillating try against the All Blacks in the 1999 World Cup semi-final, a Jekyll and Hyde match for the French where they were outplayed in the first half only to emerge transformed after the break to tear New Zealand apart in a 43-31 victory.

Somewhat typically for players of sublime talent, such as Dominici, he has his demons - he withdrew from France's November internationals in 2000 due to depression.

A year later the flying winger lost his place in the side for almost two years, but showing similar 'bouncebackability' to his fellow golden oldies, he returned to the fold in June 2003 for matches in Argentina and New Zealand and following the World Cup of that year he has remained an integral part of the set-up.

The fourth man in the quartet is the least experienced in years and caps - 29 and 43 respectively - but has nonetheless taken his place among the others as a source of inspiration to his team-mates.

The quiet man of the group, Jauzion is happy to let the others do the talking while he concentrates on his game.

A centre, Jauzion is considered to be France's answer to Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll, and is his country's playmaker.
But he still defers to the elder statesmen.

"Little by little I've gained experience with the number of matches, but I express myself better on the pitch than off it," he said.

"It's more Fabian Pelous, Rafael Ibanez or Christophe Dominici who deal with the logistics or motivation."
Less vocal he may be, but he is no less important to the team. It is widely considered in France that when he is on form, so too are Les Bleus. But when his level dips, as it did against England in this season's Six Nations - a 26-18 defeat - then the entire backline seems to lose its way.

But when he is in the groove, France too start ticking. As he says, he does his talking with his hands and feet.


Subject: French news

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