RUGBY A VII – On Saturday and Sunday, France 7 will play a repechage tournament in Monaco to secure its ticket to the Tokyo Olympics. National coach Jérôme Daret, Marvin O’Connor and Stephen Parez talk to us about this crucial event. Only the winner will earn the right to go to Tokyo.
The last straight line
Jérôme Daret is approaching this decisive weekend with serenity and determination: “The week of training went very well: there is a lot of energy, a very good state of mind, concentration. The group has built things well. Unfortunately, we have a player who is injured, Pierre-Gilles Lakafia. We will stay at fourteen before reducing the group to twelve for Friday. When we lose a player, it’s always annoying but we’ve been building our collective strength for four years. I can’t wait to be there and to play. It’s an important step to go for a medal. The team has been preparing for this for a year.
The past year
We have worked a lot from a distance and with training courses of about ten days,” says the technician. Each time, the players came back with a lot of enthusiasm. We were lucky enough to work with the French national team during the international periods, which allowed us to maintain a dynamic performance. We also played against Bayonne, Stade Toulousain and Biarritz. In the second part of the season, we had the opportunity to play two tournaments in Dubai and Madrid with the Spanish and Italians. This allowed us to find the reality of the matches. There are also all the guys who switched to XV: JP Barraque, Pierre Mignot… I regret that there were no others.”
“There will be some unknowns after the period we’ve been through,” acknowledges Jérôme Daret. What reassures us is that in the first phase, we know Uganda and Chile because we played them in Dubai. We also played Jamaica in the World Cup. In Sevens, you need experience and stability. Too many changes can make you fall apart. I’m not worried. The team now has the know-how to build on. We know what to expect.” Among the dangerous opponents, Tonga could surprise with former All Black Malakai Fekitoa in their squad, among others: “They had announced it,” says Jérôme Daret. Recalling players who were introduced to this game when they were young and who have kept this culture is a good thing for them. They are showing their desire to go to the Olympics.” Ireland will also be among the major rivals of Les Bleus: “They are a very structured team, strong in the rucks and with Conroy who goes very fast at the end of the line,” adds Marvin O’Connor. We know we can beat them, it’s happened several times on the world circuit and I don’t remember losing to them.”
Jérôme Daret and the Blues were delighted to welcome back Gabin Villière, the revelation of the beginning of 2019 in the discipline: “Gabin was trained in XV but was propelled by VII to the highest level. He went through France Development, he played finals with us and was elected best player of the tournament in Hong Kong. It is legitimate that he is with us to participate in the adventure, he is in the Olympic project since the beginning. He has the references. He had to dust off a little bit but he adapts very quickly. He is a charming boy who gets along with everyone. It’s good that a player like him and Jean-Pascal Barraque, who have been with the French national team, are joining us, it puts pressure on the opponents. In the longer term, if we pass this stage, it will show the other nations that we are coming to Tokyo with ambitions and that we are not going just to participate.”
The Colomiers TQO experience
In July 2019, Les Bleus had lost in the final of the Olympic qualifying tournament in Colomiers to Great Britain. A semi-failure that led Jerome Daret and his troops to Monaco: “We had approached the semi-final with determination. We had a lot to do with Ireland. There was a lot of emotion and a feeling of liberation at the end given the scenario. I think we left everything behind at that point. When we came back on the field for the final, we hadn’t started the game well. There was some self-criticism that was done. We will talk about it when the time comes with the players. There was already a discussion with the captain about it. We must use it for this year. This experience should allow us to better manage the second day.”
“Of all the nations competing this weekend, we were the highest ranked team on the world tour, in sixth place, last year,” recalls Marvin O’Connor. So yes, in a sense we are the favorites. We are ready for it. Our Dacquois coach insists a lot on the management of emotions. They will be put to the test