France forge indomitable spirit through adversity

The team have learned to tough it out in difficult matches, perhaps helped by the resilience of several players who have overcome trying times to be in Japan.

TOKYO, 27 Sep - "We’re aware of our capacity for creating rollercoasters," says France winger Yoann Huget.

He was talking about France's recent history of making difficulties for themselves on the rugby field. But the analogy applies equally to the backstories of several members of the French squad.

The hardships some have endured have been blended into the mix to forge a more indomitable group spirit.

Huget, pictured above left with Maxime Medard, centre, and Cyril Baille, is one of several players who have said they believe that, several months ago, France would have lost a match like their Pool C opener against Argentina.

"We would have continued our bad habits, continued to let our heads drop when they got back in front," he said.

"This time, every time they took the lead, you could feel our desire to take the game to them, fight, take back a penalty or score a drop goal, as Camille (Lopez) did."

Huget says the overwhelming sentiment on the team bus after the match was one of relief. And he has more reason than most to feel that way.

He was excluded from the French World Cup squad in 2011 after failing to notify France’s anti-doping agency of his whereabouts on three occasions. He then missed Rugby World Cup 2015 through injury.

After the Argentina game, he sat down with scrum-half Maxime Machenaud on the pitch.

"For eight years, it has been one game after the other. I just wanted to take five minutes, sit down, look around," he said.

"It was a great stadium, and a great match, with an important outcome for us. That’s how I’m feeling – I want to take advantage of every moment."

Virimi Vakatawa, Charles Ollivon and Cyril Baille have also overcome particular adversity to make it into Les Bleus’ final 31-man squad.

Vakatawa feared at one point he would not be able to honour the promise he made at his mother’s sickbed a few days before she passed away. He was only included in the preliminary squad to replace the injured Geoffrey Doumayrou, but he managed to play his way on to the plane to Japan.

Ollivon also impressed sufficiently during France’s preparation to graduate from reserve to the No.7 jersey against Argentina.

"On 20 September, 2018 I had a shoulder operation. I had to go through a complete rehabilitation," he said.

"It was quite a journey. Somewhere deep down, I believed in this destiny, to be able to be at the World Cup. I had it in me. If it hadn’t been for that, it wouldn’t have been possible. I would have given up. Without that hope, without that conviction, I couldn’t have made this World Cup."

Baille, meanwhile, ruptured a patella tendon in 2017, then had an operation on his hamstring in the summer of 2018. He only returned just before Christmas last year.

He earned a squad place after an injury to Etienne Falgoux and after trimming down 10kg. He then featured from the bench against Argentina.

France No.8 Louis Picamoles summed up the spirit in the camp.

"I’ve always believed more in the group than in individuals," he said.

"We’re certainly not the best team France has ever seen, but that’s not what’s important. We each have our own particular motivations, but we’re united for a common objective."

RNS gl/ar/icr