Magne: A Rugby World Cup in Europe is special
France has an affinity with Rugby World Cup. While the national side are yet to take the final step in lifting the Webb Ellis Cup, they have lit up the tournament throughout its history. From Serge Blanco in 1987 to Christophe Dominici in 1999 and Thierry Dusautoir in 2011, Les Bleus have had many heroes to remember and classic moments to savour.
Sitting just yards from the trophy during the Paris stopover of the road trip from Rugby School to the opening European qualifier for RWC 2015 between Hungary and Bulgaria, former France flanker Olivier Magne was quick to point out the importance of the tournament to every aspiring player.
“We live with the memories of the Rugby World Cup, from the first one in 1987, and during my youth and career I played with pictures of the World Cup,” he said. “To see the World Cup in Europe is special, it’s one of the most famous events in the world and the main target for a rugby player is to win it. First, you want to play in it, and after that you want to win it for your country.”
One of the finest players of his generation, Magne starred at two Rugby World Cups. His first, in 1999, saw France fall in the final against John Eales’s classic Wallabies side. Prior to that, though, they carved out a chapter in the tournament’s history with their semi final victory over New Zealand at Twickenham.
Just 24 hours after Australia had won a seminal encounter with South Africa in the first semi final, France turned on the style to stun the All Blacks 43-31. It remains one of the most thrilling matches in history, but the emotional investment required left France lacking once the Wallabies rolled into Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium for the final.
“We played very badly during the pools,” Magne recalled. “After that we played a very good quarter final against Argentina in Dublin, but we had to play against the All Blacks, the favourites for the competition, in the semi final. We were not prepared to win against the All Blacks. After that, it was like we had won the World Cup.
“We had not been in the ‘plan’ to win the World Cup. After that, we played Australia, and Australia prepared very well. They were prepared to win it. It was too emotional for us to have two games like this, with pressure on our shoulders. The Australians deserved to win it, but it was too emotional for us.”
Four years later, Magne was part of a French team in Australia that came up short in the semi finals against the eventual champions, England. Despite a brace of disappointments at the sharp end of the competition, the former Montferrand and London Irish openside savoured the unique experience.
“It’s global,” he said. “You play in a country, have many different games and you can see the competition – all the games of the teams you can play against. It’s a very particular moment, all the teams in the world meet together in one event. The atmosphere is very different to all the other competitions.”
Magne played his last Test for France in June 2007, just months before the Rugby World Cup exploded into life in his home country. A riot of colour and flavour, the tournament was a huge success characterised by packed houses across the board and a carnival atmosphere. With Rugby World Cup 2015 on the horizon, lessons will be learned from France’s lead and New Zealand’s ‘stadium of four million’ in 2011.
“We organised the World Cup in 1998 for the soccer and France won it,” Magne remembered. “A lot of attention came to the Rugby World Cup in 2007. France wanted to recreate the same situation as 10 years before.
“The event was excellent, all the stadiums were full and France likes to make a big party around sports competitions. Everything was perfect apart from the final of the competition – France was not involved in it. It was a very good experience for France to be able to organise a competition like that and I think it will be the same in England in 2015.”