“Being with the Pumas opened my mind”

“Being with the Pumas opened my mind”
“Being with the Pumas opened my mind”

MENDOZA.– From one moment to the next, the press conference loses its essence and becomes, rather, a monologue. Fabien Galthié He takes over the scene. He speaks quietly, forcing the interlocutor to pay attention. The rugby talk turns philosophical. A mix of a heartthrob and an intellectual, with his characteristic thick black plastic glasses, the coach of France He is one of the central figures of world rugby. He is a star. Since taking over the reins in 2019, he has elevated Les Bleus to the top of the world. However, the team failed at the crucial moment, the 2023 World Cup played at home. This year’s Six Nations meant a step backwards and now faces a tough challenge in Argentina.

Far from being intimidated, he accepts the challenge and gains confidence in familiar territory. He was here in 1992 and was a victim of the power of the Cuyo team, who achieved a historic triumph. He had his first experience as a coach at Stade Français in charge of several Argentines, and He completed an accelerated master’s degree when he accompanied Santiago Phelan as an advisor and counselor at the Pumas. He is now returning to the country for the first time as coach of France, which will play the first Test match of the series on Saturday at 4pm, at the World Cup stadium.

A thoughtful Fabien Galthié during the press conference prior to the friendly that the French national team will play against the Pumas at the World Cup stadium. – Credits: @ANDRES LARROVERE

“We are facing a great challenge,” He says in the same tone that he uses to praise the Argentine team. What do you appreciate most about your opponent on Saturday? “The fight. It is a culturally very combative team, very solid in one-on-one, very solid in the ruck. It’s a very tough team, very tough, very solid. They’ve improved a lot. their rugby. It is a team that today has the standard of the best teams in the world. “They have the ability to offer, beyond just scoring, a versatile rugby, with speed, with variations. But they also know how to play with their feet and press. It is a team that has all the skills. Today, it is one of the best teams in the world.”

Galthié knows his rival well. Felipe Contepomi was the captain of the Pumas when he joined the staff and advised Tati Phelan between 2008 and 2010. “It was a long time ago. It was a fantastic experience. I learned a lot. I was there for two years, I have great memories. I am very happy to see Felipe Contepomi and Juan Fernández Lobbe now, who was number 8. It was a source of pride for me. “I have very fond memories of this experience.”

How did the approach come about? “I had finished my time at Stade Français. There were a lot of Argentinians in that team,” he recalls. “There was Agustín Pichot, who was the captain; there were Juan Martín Hernández, Rodrigo Roncero, Nani Corleto… They asked me to help Santiago Phelan, who was the new coach. It was a very enriching experience. It helped me a lot in my training. It was a very rich experience, both with the national team and with local rugby, since they asked me to create the training centres, the Pladares. In the different provinces I walked and accompanied the creation of the Pladares. Now it is Martín Gaitán who manages that, who was also on the staff. I learned a lot by coming into contact with a different rugby, another culture, it opened my mind.”

French coach Fabien Galthie, in the middle of his national team’s training session, before traveling to Mendoza. – Credits: @LUIS ROBAYO

The Les Bleus team is currently staying at the Diplomatic, a hotel whose style is well suited to the French idiosyncrasy. Finely decorated in a classical style, it matches the elegance that Galthié radiates, even dressed in sportswear. The city looks much more attractive today than it was 22 years ago, when he visited it for the first time. Galthié remembers it with nostalgia, even though Cuyo won a historic 32-30 victory on the Independiente Rivadavia court.

“Yes, yes, I remember it very well,” he says smiling. “I remember twisting my left wrist. It was a very tough match. They had the first line of the Pumas at that time [Martín Grau, Patricio Grau y Federico Méndez]“It was a six-week tour. It makes me a little nostalgic.”

Frenchman Fabien Galthié remembers with nostalgia his time with the Pumas and his experience in Mendoza, where the rugby team he leads will face the Argentine on Saturday. – Credits: @ANDRES LARROVERE

The tour comprised eight matches, of which France won five (including the two Test Matches against Pumas in Vélez) and lost two (against Cuyo and Tucumán); the remaining match, which they were losing 8-6 to Rosario at the end of the first half, was not completed because the lights at Newell’s pitch went out.

As is often the case in the July window, France takes advantage of the opportunity to give its main players a rest and try out players. A similar situation to that of 2016, when he played two games in Tucumán with a completely alternative team and shared victories. From that squad, scrum-half Baptiste Serin will be the captain. Galthié made a mix between experienced players with extensive experience in the Top 14, but without much participation in the national team, and young promises They are expected to be future replacement players and were recently selected for the U20, champions of the last three World Cups in this category. Among them are the centre Émilien Gailleton, the second row Posolo Tuilagi (son of the Samoan Henry, one of the seven brothers of the Tuilagi dynasty), the Fijian centre Simeli Daunivucu, the wing Théo Attosogbe, the third rows Oscar Jegou and Lenni Nouchi, and the fullback Léo Barré.

“The team was built with the best players,” Galthié justifies. “The selection principle is quite simple. These are the best players for this moment. We try to find balance in the profiles. But the one who is called up is still the best player in his position at the moment.”

Fabien Galthié, happy to return to Argentina, where he worked for a long time at Pumas and Pladares – Credits: @ANDRES LARROVERE

Although it is a new team, unlike the Argentine team that maintains the base of the previous process, France has the advantage that it has been training together for several weeks, while the Pumas trained together again on Monday, eight months after their last match. “We have already been working for three weeks with this project, with this team. We were lucky to have met in Marcoussis [el centro de alto rendimiento de la Federación Francesa de Rugby] and having played a training match with Romania. The preparation that followed in Buenos Aires and Mendoza has been very positive for the players.”

The 20-minute limit for the conference is inflexible and Galthié’s long final answer prevents another question. He gestures in time with his words. He is talking about rugby, but an interlocutor who did not know French could easily think he was talking about philosophy. Basically, it’s a bit of both.

France head coach Fabien Galthié discussed the current state of his team and the transformation of Argentine rugby at his press conference in Mendoza. – Credits: @ANDRES LARROVERE

“We know they are capable of unleashing a lot of energy. And when that happens, we have to be solid in the psychological fundamentals. Confidence, energy. Self-confidence and energy. Don’t overthink. Work hard.” He reflects. “We have time. Maybe it’s the last tour. Tours are dying out. On a month’s tour, you go out, you immerse yourself in a group, you live, you play matches. That’s how it was until 1995. I think it’s an opportunity to experience something that resembles our origins in rugby. The birth of a group. To live a special moment, a little out of time. And at the same time discover, meet people, leave your city, leave your country, get to know a totally unknown rugby. We have some gems here. For them, this tour is the equivalent of a Test match. “A week of preparation with the national team is equivalent to a year’s experience playing in European clubs.”

Fabien Galthié, coach, superstar, dandy, philosopher. Authentic.

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