Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Rugby Six Nations

French will not test Ireland this time but can be major force in the future: Magne

Under-20 Six Nations Championship Round 1,Stade Pre-Fleuri, Sermoise-sur-Loire, France 5/2/2016
France Under 20's vs Italy Under 20's
France head coach Olivier Magne
Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Matteo Ciambelli
Under-20 Six Nations Championship Round 1,Stade Pre-Fleuri, Sermoise-sur-Loire, France 5/2/2016 France Under 20's vs Italy Under 20's France head coach Olivier Magne Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Matteo Ciambelli
David Kelly

By David Kelly

Nothing in Olivier Magne's storied career could have prepared him for this moment. It was literally all Greek to him.

Rugby round up Newsletter

Game previews, plus expert insights and exclusive commentary from the Belfast Telegraph sports team.

Standing before a group of players on a dusty track overlooked by olive trees, one of the finest flank forwards the game had ever seen was struggling now to comprehend just how he could impart even a little of his knowledge to Greece's international rugby team.

So he just started at the beginning. For how else can you mean to go on? This farmer's son from the Auvergne had fulfilled his own journey and now it was time to give something back to the game he loved. It is a philosophy that underpins everything he believes in.

"I'm still looking," he tells us from home. "I coached Brive, the French amateurs, French A, Under-20s, in the second division, Greece, 10 years ago. Nothing changes. It is the same game. My approach is the same. I just love the game. Whether it is adults or children.

"Everyone is different but the game is the same. And you can see the evolution very quickly. In Greece, their passion and ambition to be the best they can be is just like anyone else. Why can't everyone be allowed to share that?"

He has always striven to give more than he takes; hard to do much else when he has offered so much in the first place.

Magne was one of the sport's most flamboyant talents, befitting one who featured in one of the greatest games of the last 25 years, France's Twickenham coup in a World Cup semi-final against New Zealand in 1999.

Whether dyeing his hair or firing imaginary pistols into the crowd in the act of celebrating a try, for a decade between 1997 and 2007, Magne colourfully reimagined the position of the openside akin to a modern-day Jean-Pierre Rives.

Like his side, so often he seemed untouchable; their 2003 dismissal of Ireland in Melbourne a summit of their dominance; he would lose just twice in 10 meetings. The current French team have won just three times in the last 10.

When Magne sees France now, he does so with a confection of angst and anticipation, at what is being wasted but also at what could be achieved.

In his eyes, the rot set in when France lost the 2011 World Cup final by just one point to the All Blacks; like Icarus, that day so close to the searing sun would soon propel them on a stunning slump towards ground zero.

"We lost a sense of who we were," says the 45-year-old. "People were happy to get to the final in 2011 but it was not a good tournament for us.

"We could not see the wood for the trees. We didn't have the distance to analyse what was going on underneath.

"We needed to have a vision for the next 10 years but we didn't do it, and that's why we are falling behind countries like Wales and Scotland, never mind New Zealand and Ireland.

"We have to return to our way of playing. This is our identity, it is in our culture, it is our legacy. We have been focused on playing with structure for a long time.

"If we want to play our own game, we need young players with speed and vision. At the moment, we are not really able to play like that with 15 players.

"The new generation are more of movement and creativity. But it's always the same thing in France. We talk and talk but never take any action.

"We need unity. It will be better for everyone if there is a united front because without an international team you have no soul.

"If we don't do it, we die."

He senses a slow journey for his native land - "our crisis of growing" - but the Toulouse-inspired youth make him smile. So does Ireland.

"Yes, we always won, but they were the only team with whom we would mix at the post-match banquet. Good times," he says.

Ireland will maintain the trend of eminence, he agrees.

"France will be dangerous but Ireland are just so consistent. It will show France how much they need to climb," he sighs.

And, in the time since he left, how far they have fallen.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph