Rugby World Cup 2023 / French XV – Imanol Harinordoquy: “With this mask I could see absolutely nothing, I would not have been able to play scrum half”

Midi Olympique consultant, Imanol Harinordoquy (82 selections for the French team from 2002 to 2012), analyzes the Blues’ game, puts a piece on Louis Bielle-Biarrey for the final phases and addresses, not without humor, the Dupont case.

Was the match against Namibia, won 96-0 by the Blues, really useful?

This kind of match is part of the history of World Cups. In the group stage, there have always been tough matches, and others not at all… But when I see the seriousness, the consistency and the technical accuracy of the players of the XV of France at the Vélodrome, I say to myself that this match at least allowed the Blues to have fun and please their supporters.

How so ?

Some tests were from the Play Station! Gorgeous ! […] On the Vélodrome pitch, the players had a great time and it showed: there were beautiful smiles on their faces.

All right.

In fact, this match proves that the French XV is capable of constructing matches in the Anglo-Saxon style, without air gaps and by being serious for 80 minutes. The Namibians indeed spent the evening under their posts…

You had faced Namibia in 2007. What impression did this team leave on you then?

We had scored 80 points (87-10), I think… This meeting came just after the opening match (lost to Argentina at the Stade de France, Editor’s note) and the players therefore wanted to show something else. We scored a lot of tries. I remember a crazy atmosphere in Toulouse.

Were you still hungry for the Blues’ game before Thursday’s match?

They had been borrowed a little against the All Blacks: I imagine here that the pressure of the opening match was no stranger to it. And then, against Uruguay, we just came across opposition that we didn’t expect. Thursday evening, although the opponent was weak, they still had to be able to make the right passes at the right tempo. I’m repeating myself, but certain sequences at the Vélodrome were truly incredible.

And overall, are you enjoying this World Cup?

Personally, I never really like the group stages… It’s often disparate, unbalanced… The World Cup is like the Top 14: it becomes really interesting when the matches are eliminations. This is where the tension is at its maximum, where the teams reveal themselves and play their best rugby. This World Cup will really begin at the time of the quarter-finals, in short.

On the left wing, Louis Bielle-Biarrey apparently scored points against Namibia. What opinion do you have of the Bordeaux striker?

I found it fantastic at the Vélodrome on Thursday evening. Bielle-Biarrey, he goes to 10,000 (sic), performs great class gestures… We feel that he can make a difference at any time and continues to surprise us. As they say, he took the jersey and doesn’t seem determined to give it back.

Who do you think will occupy this left winger position during the big matches of the French XV in the coming weeks?

The question is knowing the shape of the moment and what I have seen so far, Louis Bielle-Biarrey scores points on every match. I can see him keeping his starting place.

In the third row, the return to competition of Anthony Jelonch also places Fabien Galthié faced with a painful choice. In your opinion, who will be the third French line against Italy and in the quarter-final?

I’m not a coach… There are a few million in the country, that’s more than enough…

You do, however, have an opinion…

It is obvious that Charles Ollivon and Grégory Alldritt will start. Third place will therefore be played out between François Cros and Anthony Jelonch. And there, it’s frankly a difficult choice… We must monitor the dimension that Anthony Jelonch seems to take on each of his outings. I read that some had found him a little “borrowed” during his return against Uruguay… Well…

Quoi ?

In general, when you start again after having done the crusaders, you play forty minutes in Espoirs and that’s it! He had an international match and did the job, against Uruguay. And Thursday evening, against Namibia, he stepped up a little more, even handing out two or three severe stamps…

What about François Cros now?

He is so valuable on obscure tasks… For example, he made 17 tackles without missing a single one against Namibia… Strategically, he will also bring his intelligence into the game and his good knowledge of the alignment. Between Jelonch and him, it’s the king’s choice… I wish Fabien Galthié good luck… (laughs)

Are you in favor of a bench with five or six forwards? There is debate within the French staff…

I like the front six option. But because Sekou Macalou’s incredible versatility allows it. […] I also have the impression that placing six forwards on the bench shows the opponent that you are ready to fight and that they will lose feathers, at the hour of play. The message sent is strong.

Dupont? You recover more quickly among your friends

Italy will be the other big piece of this group A. What opinion do you have of this team? Should we be worried about this or will it be a formality?

To worry, no. A formality? Neither. […] The Italian selection is progressing. She has interesting personalities, holds the ball for long periods and plays great rugby. Are we going to give them the initiative like in the last 6 Nations Tournament? It played tricks on us that day… In Rome, we were sanctioned 18 times by the referee (Matthew Carley)…

Let’s address the Dupont case, if you wish. Is it important that he returns to the France group in the coming days?

His return, even injured, is already very important for the group. And for him, this is nothing trivial. Even if you have to let mother nature take its course, even if you don’t have to go faster than the music, I’m sure that you recover more quickly among your friends. You just have to look at what Anthony Jelonch achieved this summer, after his serious knee injury. The context boosts you. And then, by remaining involved in the daily life of the Blues, Antoine Dupont will have the impression of not leaving the competition.

Have you ever experienced this type of injury in your career?

Yes. In 2010, shortly before we faced Munster in the Champions Cup semi-final (with Olympic Biarritz, Editor’s note)… Everything was stolen from me in this area… The sinuses, the malar bone, the zygomatics… Everything …And it hurts, you can believe me…

Antoine Dupont will not be able to play with a mask, World Rugby regulations prohibit it. Yet you did it, you…

Yes ! It’s a long story !

Imanol Harinordoquy against Munster on May 2, 2010 in the H-Cup semi-final.

Imanol Harinordoquy against Munster on May 2, 2010 in the H-Cup semi-final.

Can you remind us of it?

Even in films, this kind of thing doesn’t exist… I had a thermo-molded PVC mask made by an eminent specialist. With that, it was perfect. I didn’t feel anything on the contacts, I could see the field very well and trained normally all week. However, my operation had only taken place a week earlier!

So what ?

The Irish in Munster knew about my fracture and my operation. They knew that I had planned to play with protection and therefore asked the referee to check all that… The day before the match, he came to see me at the hotel, asked to see the mask in question and did not validate it. This was already prohibited by the regulations because it could prove dangerous for opponents.

What did you do, then?

We found ourselves at 11 p.m. making a mask with foam, strap and everything we had on hand… It was not at all suitable. It looked like a gladiator mask and behind that, I could see absolutely nothing. I wouldn’t have been able to play scrum half… My fly-half wouldn’t have received a single good ball…

Was it painful?

On game day, no. However, the Irish had stuck a huge shaft (sic) in my face at kick-off… (laughs) There, I heard “crack” and said to myself: “Okay, here we go”. I turned off the brain, let the adrenaline do its thing and finished the meeting.

Did you keep this mask?

Yes. I even recently posted it on social networks with this comment: “If this can be of use to anyone…”

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