Take the trophy home. The objective set for Les Bleues for this ninth Women’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand has been hammered home by the management of the French Rugby Federation for four years. The podium, the France team knows very well. In the eight previous editions, Les Bleues have finished on the third step six times. It’s time to fill the sails to turn a corner and finally climb to the top.
“We have put the means, so we want to believe in it. When you’re not ambitious… breathes Brigitte Jugla, the vice-president of the FFR, who follows the Blue in Auckland. The means are the federal contracts which professionalize the internationals, allowing them to devote themselves 100% to oval leather.
The girls of rugby 7 were the first to benefit from it in order to prepare for the integration of their discipline into the Olympic program in Rio in 2016. The effort paid off. Not immediately in Brazil (6e), but in Tokyo, where Les Bleues won silver, before bronze at the World Cup on September 11.
The era of professional contracts
The fifteen players benefit from the same regime from 2018, which is gradually gaining momentum. First supported 75% by the FFR and 25% by the clubs, their salaries are now 100% financed by the federation for those who play the Six Nations Tournament or the World Cup. Today, 55 Bleues have a professional contract. The entire XV squad in New Zealand is covered by the system.
Did the results follow? With ups and downs in the Six Nations Tournament, where since the 2018 Grand Slam, the Blues are still chasing first place. But this is not the only measure available. The confrontations with New Zealand, world title holder, mark the progress: three victories, in 2018, 2019 and the last, with style, in November 2021 (38-13). What, in any case, whet the appetites for the 2022 Six Nations Tournament.
A recomposition in extremis
Except that. The Blues, if they settle without forcing most of the matches against the other adversaries, smash once again on the English wall, revealing real shortcomings in the conquest and a worrying impotence. At the end of a tournament still finished in second place, the atmosphere is not good. “The postponement of the World Cup from 2021 to 2022 because of the pandemic really disrupted things, and the group fell apart,” recalls Annick Hayraud, the manager of the Blue.
Who was a bit shaken by the changes in the framework decided on the fly by the federal leaders last May. Annick Hayraud loses her double role as coach in favor of Thomas Darracq, until then sports manager of the Bleues. Two technicians, in post since 2017 and 2019, are also replaced, less than five months from the World Cup.
“We had to adapt to the push of a new generation of players, justifies Brigitte Jugla. And Thomas Darracq, who saw these young people rise when he worked with the under-20s, was in the best position to successfully integrate them. We had no choice, a bit like with the boys when Fabien Galthié arrived to reinforce the men’s XV of France just before the last World Cup. »
“We just have to play rugby”
Does the recomposition promise sparks? Les Bleues arrived in New Zealand with two small preparation matches in the legs against Italy, the last of which was sanctioned by a defeat with the worst effect (19-26). Worrying? “We can no longer doubt, we just have to play rugby”, has just released the captain of the Blue, Gaëlle Hermet.
The French team will be able to calibrate themselves from the group stage where they will find their pet peeves, these English women who today seem to dominate the debates head and shoulders with a powerful rugby of formidable efficiency. Les Bleues, faithful to their game of movement, hope this time around the obstacle. The moment of truth is near.