The players have already left the field. Breeders, the desk of the press conference. That leaves Tonga's assistant coach, Grant Doorey, hopped can in his hand. Fingers slamming, and a smile, as if to say: "So, were you scared? " Exact, once again with this XV of France. A team already qualified for the quarterfinals, even before facing England at the end of the first round. But a team that gets scared, even in victory. Here against Tonga (23-21), Sunday, October 6, in Kumamoto. Previously against Argentina (same score) and against the United States (33-9).
A rugby match lasts eighty minutes. It is a cliché that often use the Blues, in this World Cup, to insist on the result rather than on the course of meetings. Yet it is a phrase that also reminds, by contrast, all these floating minutes. All these declines where the victories, especially in the second half, have almost become defeated. Unfathomable moments. Too much "Hard to explain"according to Charles Ollivon, the third line, after a few seconds of reflection. For once, post-match questions and answers take place in the open air, not in the basement of a stadium.
Difficult, however, to find the light. The day falls early in Japan and the scenarios are repeated too often to detect an improvement. On the basis of the last forty minutes, France conceded an 18-3 against Argentina and a 14-6 against Tonga. Faced with the United States, different scenario, but not less anxiety: it is especially after the hour of play that the Blues feared the worst, when the Americans have reduced their delay to three small points (12-9) .
A bit like in 2018 against Ireland, when they lost on a final drop of Sexton; or in Scotland, while they were still on the hour of play; or against South Africa, on a last counter-attack. A bit like eight months ago, when they fell in front of Wales, despite a 16-0 in their favor at halftime. Brunel's catalog, in two seasons, is already large.
"In everyday life, we have ups and downs"
Say to a new, who takes the blue train on: for his first selection, Pierre-Louis Barassi started in the second half against Tonga. "A context a little difficult"he admits. Like others before him, the young three-quarter center sees in those shots less well a question "Mental" : "We need to be focused. In everyday life, in our work, we all have ups and downs. "
The question must, in any case, be settled without a mental trainer. Jacques Brunel did not want for the team, as the coach explained it already a year ago: "I believe that it can only have an impact if it is done in time and rather as an individual. "
On Sunday, Brunel circumscribed his comment at the agonizing end of the day: "I explain it because there was probably some frustration. We had the opportunity to take off, but we made mistakes that prevented us. "
To stay at this last game, let's be sporty: yes, the XV of France played, yes, it hinted at the beginning of something. And especially thanks to its two "Fijians". Thus the Tongan coach, Toutai Kefu, designates the two naturalized of the XV of France: Virimi Vakatawa and Alivereti Raka, each one try this Sunday. But impossible to "Produce the game we would like over time", says Barassi, "Sometimes, it gets complicated. " impossible to "Stay focused on the game plan", also recognizes the hooker Camille Chat, holder tonight to spare the usual captain, Guilhem Guirado.
In quarters, "it will not happen"
A little as if this XV of France sought to imitate the game of others rather than pursue his own. Against Tonga, it has declined especially because of wanting to throw itself into rucks, against the pack yet presented as the heaviest of the competition. "Machines, players much bigger than us," smiles Ollivon, who recalls, conversely, that the Blues have focused "Their physical preparation on the races and the displacements. "When the Tongans started playing in small piles, we moved back. "
Ollivon knows it. To relax like this against Tonga, the United States and even Argentina, is still happening. But against England? Then in the quarter-finals, either against the Australians, or against the Welsh? "There, it will not pass. The Toulonnais expects to "New wrestling" : "The first one who loses will lose. "
Wenceslas Lauret has already let go. In front of the reporters, the third-line Racing repeated ten times the same sentence, and nothing else, to the journalists who asked him his analysis: "My name is Groot. " Reference to an American science fiction film, Guardians of the galaxy (2014), after an explanation from a colleague. Almost as sibylline as the end game of this XV of France.