Author of three Grand Slams with the XV of France (2002, 2004 and 2010), the former third line with 82 selections Imanol Harinordoquy casts a radiant look at the Blues of Fabien Galthié. For RMC Sport, the Basque, particularly impressed by the performances of Julien Marchand and Cyril Baille, evokes Saturday’s Crunch against England. He believes more than ever in the victory of the Blues.
Imanol Harinordoquy, how should France’s XV handle such a match with this Grand Slam pressure?
There’s no magic formula when you’re playing for a Tournament win and especially a Grand Slam. The aim is to appropriate the event, look at it positively and return to the field with great pleasure. I believe this group does well on and off the field, especially with a remarkable frame of mind. The players will have to take the match on Saturday from the right side because when you play everything on a match there can be a certain amount of pressure. It’s up to them to keep calm, be cool and break the mouth of these Englishmen.
Is this match different from the others?
This match is different because it’s a bit unfamiliar to this group with a pressure that can crush you, brake you. When the match is close, they may say to themselves and think they are going to lose something. But they will talk about it all week to desacralize the thing.
Four wins in a row in this Tournament, is this the guarantee of absolute confidence for this XV of France?
This team shows an Olympic rest. If they get into trouble (we saw it against the Irish and against the Welsh in the second period) don’t panic, don’t panic. They avoid mistakes by defending hard, so it’s hard for the opponent to beat them, especially when they start playing their rugby. Terrifying rugby. However, it will be necessary to demonstrate perfect control.
What are the differences and similarities with the team of your time?
I don’t like comparing eras because they are all different. 2002 and 2004 were a bit similar, in 2010 it was really different because we won it more on collective experience and experience than on our level. A minor success. But the most important thing is to win the matches anyway. Today it is their story, their common experience and they have to anchor it deep within themselves because this kind of victory unites a group forever and will mark a milestone one year after the World Cup.
Do you think a player stands out in this French group?
Before we talk about players, there is mainly a bunch of attackers who do some monstrous work. Once they hit the ball, they win all their duels and that’s pretty impressive. Individually, Cyril Baille and especially Julien Marchand seem to me with XXL versions above the size. Very valuable players in weak times with a Merchant in the foreground. And in the Hall of Pillars, I think Christian Califano should be pretty proud of Cyril Baille.
Today we speak of the golden generation. A commonly used term?
I don’t use those terms. For two years the players have wet the jersey and that is a pleasure, because we had lost it for almost ten years. Today there is a team that fights even when it is difficult. This proves the mental strength of this XV of France who does not get carried away and remains very modest despite the level shown.
What do you notice about this team?
What strikes me most is the state of mind and this ability to remain calm during competitions despite a very young average age. They also show a rather incredible maturity. We, in our day, have taken years to get there.
Did Fabien Galthié Change Everything?
I’m not going to analyze everything, but what he did very well was put the French team back at the center of the debate when he took it back into his hands. He defined a framework for everyone, brought back meritocracy and gave young players the opportunity to join the French group.
Ending with England, our best enemy, quite a symbol…
We did it in 2010 and it was a joy to play English. And I think it’s the same for this French team. The Blues continue to admire the XV of the Rose. Either way, this game will have value.
A Grand Slam, what would change for French rugby?
It would show them that they are capable of winning a title together and that is psychologically important. It would also send a strong signal to future opponents that France can win again. They would command general respect as they changed status.
A springboard to the 2023 World Cup?
Without a doubt, because they would leave everyone behind. We have already been able to realize this during trips to Scotland or Wales, where the enthusiasm was already very high. And I can’t even imagine the popular fervor on Saturday night at the Stade de France.
Tell us about your three Grand Slams…
In 2002 it was my debut in the French team, so I didn’t realize much. I hadn’t realized this title yet. I was on a small cloud surrounded by real monsters and we were running at the Tournament. In 2004 it was brilliant, because it was the revenge of the 2003 World Cup, where we lost to England in the semi-final. We had a good season in which we played very well in rugby. In 2010 it was game after game with a turning point after the win in Cardiff where we realized we could do something. In 2010 it was also the Grand Slam of parties, we can say that today! It’s a double title…
A particular anecdote?
No anecdote, it stays between us.