Of the golden generation of CSBJ rugby, Julien Bonnaire is the most legendary. The statistics say it, they never lie. The third wing line born in Bourgoin-Jallieu has a total of 75 selections in the French team, more than Lionel Nallet (74), Morgan Parra (71), Pascal Papé (65), Sébastien Chabal (62) or Olivier Milloud (50), including other sacred air and grenade monsters. Author of 122 top-level appearances for Bourgoin, Bonnaire also has 191 magazines for ASM Clermont Auvergne, where he is also considered one of the greatest players in the club’s history.
His record speaks for itself, with four Six Nations tournaments, including one in 2010, Grand Slam as a bonus, for the decade that interests us. Champion of France with the ASM in the same year, he also achieved a national title at the end of his career, but from Pro D2, with Lyon (2016). Its glory could have been even greater in 2011 had the Blues not simply failed to secure the most prestigious trophy in world rugby, the William Webb Ellis Golden Cup as a reward for the world champion country.
Lievremont dreamed of “fifteen Julien Bonnaire”
“Every coach dreams of having fifteen Julien Bonnaires in his team,” said Marc Lievremont, coach of these unfortunate French losers in the final against New Zealand. “Julie is Mr. Rugby, he is extremely talented, has an incredible register and amazes me with his slaughter and his generosity. It’s just exemplary. And off the field, his mentality makes him an equally valuable man. †
Lievremont touches on one of Julien Bonnaire’s secrets here. Apart from extraordinary natural physical qualities (1.93 m; 95 kg), de Berjallien is endowed with moral values which he forged in his youth in judo, especially tennis. “From 10 to 17 years old I played tennis before playing rugby and mentally it is not the same, Bonnaire confided our columns a few months ago. In this individual sport you have to know how to quickly switch to the next action, to get yourself in your bubble. It has served me for the rest of my career asking questions, taking responsibility… Bullshit happens to everyone, the important thing is not to reproduce it and learn from it. This is where we see the legends: they are able to increase their level of demands to remain efficient. †
A precept that Bonnaire has tried to follow throughout his twenty-year career. “Playing with Julien was serene, says Pascal Papé, his teammate with the CSBJ from 1998 to 2006 and then eight years with the Blues. There was never any panic with him, even when he made bad matches – which was quite rare – or when the team lost, you felt it didn’t upset him. He was good at it. He knew how to gain height, put things in perspective. It allowed him to go far because he didn’t ask too many questions. I think everything he did, he did a lot on instinct. And of course there was work behind it. †
Papé: ‘In the beginning it was a bag of bones’
The first pitfall for this high-flying flanker, an excellent touch jumper, was his position change. Opener or fullback in his early days at Saint-Savin, where his parents, butcher-charcutiers near the Pierre-Rajon stadium, had moved, Julien Bonnaire became third-line in 1998. Shortly after his arrival at the CSBJ, on a flair of the mythical trainer of the time, Michel Couturas. “Julien must have had two years of rugby when he arrived from Saint-Savin, remembers Papé. It was a bag of bones, but it hurt. And above all, we felt that he was gifted, that he had feet, hands. He was athletic. Couturas wanted it because rugby was changing and you needed lean forwards like Patrick Tabacco to win the keys. Which historically we didn’t have in Bourgoin. The idea was beyond excellent and enabled Bonnaire to conquer the heights.
Retired since 2017, he is now thriving at the age of 43 in the hospitality industry, near his home, after a brief experience as a sideline coach in the French team. “The operational one in rugby, I think he’s leaving it aside because that’s not what he wants to do at the moment,” explains his friend Pascal Papé, now sports director of the CSBJ. We see each other regularly and he’s really passionate about what he does professionally, it’s going well so he’s 100% on it. Rugby, he follows it but doesn’t see himself working there every day for the time being. †
Maybe he’ll come back to it someday. Maybe at CSBJ. If he does, it’s the right time. By instinct.
The list of sports legends of the 2010s
1st: Julien Bonnaire (rugby), 40%
2nd: Méline-Robert-Michon (discus throw), 36%
3rd: Florian Jouanny (paracycling), 9%
4th: Cyril Dumoulin (handball), 6%
5th: Alexandre Peclier (rugby), 5%
6th: Bogdan Leonte (rugby), 3%
7th: Yann David (rugby), 1%