It should come as little surprise that it has taken Jean-Marc Doussain the best part of eight years to fully compute the magnitude of what happened in four-and-a-half whirlwind months in 2011.
Doussain ended the 2010-11 Top 14 season as a Bouclier de Brennus winner, helping Toulouse beat Montpellier on 4 June. But full international honours seemed some way off as he captained France to a World Rugby U20 Championship 2011 opening win over Fiji just six days later.
The talented scrum-half cum fly-half shared playmaking duties with Jules Plisson in Italy as Les Bleus finished fourth, and he returned to Toulouse focused on helping his club defend their title.
That was until September, when David Skrela – his half-back partner in that Top 14 final with Montpellier – suffered a Rugby World Cup 2011-ending injury against Japan and Doussain received an unexpected call from France team manager Jo Maso.
Six weeks later, aged 20, he would become the first player to make his test debut in a Rugby World Cup final, against hosts New Zealand at Eden Park.
“When I think about it now – now that I have taken a step back eight years later – I realise that it was amazing to live it so soon,” Doussain told World Rugby. “But in the end, I did not take in enough because it was all so fast in four months.
“Now that I'm at Lyon, it's one of the things I've been told. When we talk about me, it was that, my first test in the final against New Zealand. In retrospect I realise that I was privileged to live this adventure.”
Impossible to refuse
Maso had phoned Doussain on a Tuesday (13 September), his call-up was confirmed by France coach Marc Lièvremont the following day, but before boarding his flight to New Zealand the young playmaker first had to run out for Toulouse against Biarritz on the Friday.
He admits that the pace of events meant he “struggled to realise [what had happened] even when I was alone on the plane”.
But he wasn’t going to let the chance to play at a Rugby World Cup pass him by.
“It's impossible to refuse! There is no debate.
“Three months before I was with the U20s, it was already extraordinary, and I left to play a third [World Cup] with the big ones (after 2010 and 2011 U20 Championships). The club allowed me to go there.
“Everything happened very quickly: six months with the [Toulouse] first team, we are champions of France, I go with the U20s, I come back for the championship [Top 14] and they call me for the France XV. The club allowed me to live this because it was not planned.
“I did not have time to think. I took my clothes, my boots and I left. I thought a lot during the trip. I was very young, but I knew there were a lot of Toulousains in the group.
“It was amazing to train with the best French players of the moment. I was a kid and the average age was under 30 years old.”
Doussain arrived during the build-up to France’s pool match against hosts New Zealand, and quickly gained an understanding of the increased scrutiny the squad was under.
“Of course I was well prepared for the U20 Championship, but the craze for the World Cup, especially in New Zealand, was multiplied by 10!” he said.
“There was a lot of pressure around the team, especially since there were no good results.
“I arrived at the hotel and the next day I attended my first press conference. There were 50 journalists in front of me – a change from a few with the U20s!”
Despite his turn in front of the press, Doussain had to wait for his chance on the pitch. The fly-half watched the defeats to the All Blacks – after which Dimitri Yachvili gave him his match shirt – and Tonga as well as the quarter-final win over England from the stands.
He was elevated to the bench for the semi-final against Wales due to fitness concerns over Yachvili, but it was not until the last four minutes of the final against New Zealand that Doussain made it onto the pitch.
Never too early
The debutant was unable to prevent Les Bleus losing 8-7 in his short time on the field but, all these years later, that has not dented his pride.
“To live a World Cup is extraordinary,” he said.
And Doussain hopes to see a few more U20 Championship graduates named in Jacques Brunel’s France squad for Japan 2019.
That tournament may come too soon for the players who earned a 36-20 win over Fiji in Rosario on Tuesday, but 2018 champions Demba Bamba and Romain Ntamack are in line to follow in the Lyon fly-half’s footsteps and grace a Rugby World Cup, albeit having already played test rugby.
“I hope for them [Ntamack and Bamba] that they will be selected because it is never too early,” Doussain said.
“We have struggled, as French players, to build over time and it's good to take young players for this World Cup.
“My advice is to enjoy it, even if it will be hard. I lived it, but I did not appreciate the moment enough because it went so fast. They have been selected throughout the year and I would find it normal for them to be selected, given their potential.”