Rugby referees run behind the rules

Helped by video assistance for twenty years, equipped with a microphone for thirty years, well before their colleagues in other team sports, rugby referees have always been one step ahead. But that does not seem to be enough for the international body of the oval, World Rugby, which keeps putting the work back on the job. This year alone, the game directors have had to integrate five new rules or arrangements, two of which are still very far from being fully absorbed by the men at the whistle as by the players.

One is called 50/22. It allows a player to kick in touch from his camp, in the opposing 22 m, and to recover the throw-in if the ball rebounded before going out (before, it came back to the opposing team). Excellent in principle, since it is about promoting the attacking game, this innovation caused a wave of panic at the start of the season. “In the first match, we messed up despite the video, because we weren’t used to asking for a wider shot which would have shown us that a kick granted was invalid”, explains Laurent Cardona, Top 14 referee.

Player safety first

But it is above all a new tackle rule prohibiting a player from accompanying his teammate in his fall when falling on his opponent which gives headaches to the referees. “We must make a decision very quickly taking into account the danger, the intention, the influence of this fault on the rest of the game”, continues his colleague Cédric Marchat, who nevertheless welcomes these new rules: “It’s good to constantly adapt, it keeps us from rusting!” “

→ ANALYSIS. French rugby union dreams of a founding weekend

Well in his political role, the technical director of refereeing, Franck Maciello, reminds him that the priority of the authorities is to protect the sporting integrity of the players, in a physical context which has hardened a lot for twenty years. Formerly slender, the rears have lost nothing in speed, but weigh about twenty kilos more.As for the forwards, the “big ones” as they are nicknamed in rugby, they have retained their mass and gained in speed. “You don’t need to have completed an engineering school to understand that the weight-to-power ratio makes impacts much more dangerous”, explains one of the youngest Top14 referees, Thomas Charabas, 32 years old.

“Not always easy to follow”

Less tongue-in-cheek than his colleges, this super-graduate who reconciles his work as a professional referee and a post of emergency doctor in Bayonne, does not hide certain difficulties of adaptation in the first weeks. “Learning the new rules and understanding them isn’t the hard part. The difficulty is to apply them in a fraction of a second, in the letter but also with the intention of the player who erred.In the preparation camps where we trained among referees, we did not always agree between us on the decisions. “

Thomas Charabas is not at the end of his sentences because other adjustments, particularly concerning tackles, are underway in the bodies of this constantly evolving sport. Which has changed its rules more than a hundred times, since the first codification of rugby in 1846.



French rugby union dreams of a founding weekend

A historic weekend? Rugby League has been struggling for years to come out of the rut, a nice cousin of the game of XV but always in its shadow, reduced to a piece of Occitania which maintains a pale flame. But now this Saturday, October 9, the Catalan Dragons of Perpignan spin to Manchester to challenge St Helens in the final of the Super League, the English championship in which the French club has participated since 2006, the only one admitted to play in the most upscale European competitions in discipline. The Dragons therefore have the opportunity to become the first foreign champion of the event.

→ INVESTIGATION. Rugby Union plays the security card

And now, the next day, Sunday, October 10, Toulouse Olympique XIII receives Featherstone in the Championship final, the second English division in which the Pink City club has participated since 2017, the only foreigner included in this championship which offers its winner the accession to the prestigious Super League. The Toulouse residents are therefore very close to joining the Dragons, a dream they have cherished for more than a decade.

Successful professionalization

“All of this is the result of hard work”, asks Bernard Guasch, the president of the Dragons. For four years, around Steve McNamara, the former coach of the England team (from 2010 to 2015), the club has strengthened to erase this lack of consistency that it is often criticized by specialists across the Channel. “We have made a big effort on training, in order to add foreign playersyoung French people finally performing ”, explains Bernard Guasch. Toulouse Olympique has also bet on a very high-end workforce by carrying out a three-star recruitment for this season.

→ ANALYSIS. For the Bleues du rugby, a year of wave to the soul

The two clubs are based, it is true, on a more solid financial base, “A professionalization which allows us this constant progression”, sums up Bernard Sarrazain, at the helm of the “TO” for nine years, and who also welcomes the big blow achieved this year: an agreement signed with the Toulouse Stadium, under which the Quinzist club welcomes its cousin in its Ernest stadium. Walloon. “Which proves that we can overcome the old sterile quarrels”applauds Bernard Sarrazain.

The club also benefits from numerous partners from the “Oval Table” which brings together 300 local sponsors, one of the city’s most popular entrepreneur networks. The TO budget (3.6 million euros) should double in the event of a rise in the Super League, thanks in particular to television rights multiplied by eight to reach 1.5 million euros.

The TO, however, would approach the Super League with almost half the resources of the Catalan Dragons, now with more than 11 million in budget, including 4.5 million generated by private sponsors, some of them national. “A derby with the TO in the Super League, that would be great, enthuses Bernard Guasch. I hope that we will thus draw other French clubs, while participating in the emergence of a beautiful team of France. “

Finally revitalize the French team

This is the last stage of the rocket, the one that is still missing. “The French rugby union team has been chasing good results for decades, underlines the historian Mike Rylance, English of his state but specialist in the game to XIII in the Hexagon. It will still take time to bring out enough promising young players capable of competing with their English counterparts. But the time has finally come for optimism. “

Elected in December 2020, the new Federal President Luc Lacoste does not fail to punctuate his speech. “Today, we are finally all moving forward together: the triptych is the Dragons, the TO, the France team. We have overhauled our training system, we are launching an unrivaled recruitment campaign. The planets, it seems to me, are lining up. The nations of the South which dominate the discipline are starting to look at us. “

In the same vein, France is suddenly a candidate for the organization of the 2025 World Cup. It should be able to measure the level of its Blues from next October 23, in Perpignan, during a hot France-England. The Dragons, Toulouse, the Blues, and why not three consecutive victories?


The 2025 World Cup in France?

This is the dream pursued by the new Federal President Luc Lacoste: to organize the Rugby Union World Cup in 2025. The last time France alone hosted the event was in 1972. Australia, nation flagship of the discipline, would look favorably on the French candidacy. “I also recently met Bernard Laporte, the president of the XV Federation, who assured me of full support., says Luc Lacoste. Which proves that yesterday’s wars are over. We share the same ball. We are pushing in the same direction. “



Paralympic Games: in wheelchair rugby, the Blues are already thinking about Paris 2024

Close to the feat against Japan (51-53) and beaten on the edge (48-50) by the Australians, the reigning Paralympic champions, the French wheelchair rugby team unabashedly rubs shoulders with the world elite. A remarkable improvement as the French finished eighth at the London Games and seventh in Rio in their first two appearances at the Games.

→ REPORT. In Japan, hope sparked by the Paralympic Games

The narrow path to qualifying for the semi-finals of the Paralympic Games will now pass through a victory this Friday, August 27 against Denmark. Everything is still possible“, wants to believe Michel Terrefond, the national sports director, who recalls his roadmap: Twelve years ago, we said to ourselves that we were going to London to see, to Rio to experiment, to Tokyo to win a medal before aiming for gold in Paris in 2024. “

It was following a road accident in 1988 that the manager discovered this discipline. spectacular “, invented in the 1970s in Canada and the United States by American hockey and footballers who became quadriplegic. Wheelchair rugby was inspired by handball, basketball, volleyball, rugby, American football and hockey on the go“, making possible reinforcements like that of Sébastien Verdin, 29, one of the top scorers in the French championship, who abandoned the basketball courts.

Familiar with the summits with a team reinforced by women

With around 200 license holders, this young discipline is developing in France. Since the first team was formed in the mid-2000s, 15 clubs – including five professionals – have formed a wheelchair rugby section.

In Europe, we are the second country in number of clubs after England“, rejoices Michel Terrefond, hoping that during these Games, the media coverage of this sport, which is practiced with a fairly heavy handicap“, will revive the dynamic slowed down by the Covid-19.

In France, the practice of this collective sport, open since its birth to co-education, remains for the most part very masculine. French clubs have less than ten women in their workforce. It is possible that in the future, some of them will apply to the France team ”, foresees Michel Terrefond, who does not rule out the opportunity to bring the best into the French team at the Paris Games in 2024. “But they have to be as efficient as the men. We could put quotas, except that for me, that is not integration. As in business, only skill should count!



Les Bleues rugby sevens, cash

There were tears, during the pre-match Marseillaise, on the cheeks of Anne-Cécile Ciofani. There were tears, a quarter of an hour later, on those of Jade Ulutule. Not the same, but it is to say that it counted enormously, this Olympic rugby sevens final, for this gang of girls who firmly believed in their golden destiny, Saturday July 31 in Tokyo.

But opposite of course, revengeful New Zealanders had nothing to do with this blue dream. It was for them to wash away the affront of 2016 in Rio, when for the first appearance of the discipline at the Games, they had yielded the most beautiful medals to Australia. So, coldly, they deployed their talent, confiscated the ball, and extinguished without a blow to the tricolor hopes (12-26).

A long-term project

“The disappointment is there, of course, but we showed great values, and lived an extraordinary adventure”, commented hot the captain of the Blue, Fanny Horta. She ended her international career at 35 with a silver medal, and more than any other, she can measure how far she has come. Even if a perfect tournament so far, with a victory over Fiji in the pool (12-5), and a success against England in the semi-final (26-19), augured a royal conclusion, this second place rewards a long-term project launched by the French Rugby Federation in 2009.

Selecting players, building a group by offering 25 federal contracts in total, working extra hard after the Rio Games (concluded with a sixth place), the beautiful building has gradually been put in place under the leadership of coach David Courteix. “We have been preparing for years. It’s a group that has matured a lot, which has a lot of experience and qualities ”, praised the coach before the tournament.

Real group work

And it did indeed explode, the talent of some players, like that of Anne-Cécile Ciofani, who climbs on a podium that her parents had watched from far away in their time. His mother, a Cameroonian throwing specialist, had participated in the weight and discus events at the Seoul Games in 1988 (elimination in qualifying). His father had finished 8e of the Los Angeles Games hammer contest four years earlier. Anne-Cécile, for her part, sought a more collective adventure in rugby, and it is this conviviality that convinced her to push ever further in the discipline. “With the girls on the team, we’re almost sisters”, she summed up at the start of the tournament.

And this solidarity has indeed been reflected on the ground. Other individuals stood out, such as Séraphine Okemba, quick and punchy. But in the end, it is the collective strength and fluidity in the game of the Blues that made the difference and led them to the top. Captain Fanny Horta had set the goal before the Olympic fortnight, she who was to retire in 2020, but who continued the story a year more after the postponement of the Games to “Go to the end of things” with his comrades: “I wanted to leave with a great reward for our work”. It’s done.



Rugby, the Toulouse stadium doubles the stake

They did it. Even more than redone. The double European Cup-French Championship offered to the Toulousans by beating La Rochelle in a Top 14 final while mastering skill, Friday June 25, is certainly not a novelty for the club of the pink city. The Toulouse Stadium had already performed a double performance in 1996, the year in which the European trophy was born. But it was another time, another less demanding rugby, without the English clubs that year in the continental competition. And the two finals were six months apart, the European round then taking place in early January.

Rugby: Toulouse stadium European champion after an intense fight

A taste of unfinished business

Suffice to say that for Toulouse, this first double had a slight taste of unfinished business. Since then, the club has been chasing a really meaningful repetition. In vain. The Reds and Blacks had reigned over Europe again in 2003, 2005 and 2010, but without being able to triumph in those years also on their land. Worse: it was Toulon, in 2014, with its armada of stars, who had won the day. Something to titillate Toulouse pride.

But they had to wait, the valiant Toulousains, before they could touch the Grail. The first time to rebuild their health, they who, after so many successful years, experienced the bottoming out in 2017, twelfth in the Top 14 and therefore deprived of Europe the following year, a unique snub since the creation of the continental event. An accident, without a future. Because in Toulouse, the bad times could not last. It is the reverse which is registered on the local charter: here, “We come, we win and we go! “, as the supporters sing.

Of which act. A group was rebuilt, from 2018, with a new president, Didier Lacroix, appointed a year earlier, a manager, Ugo Mola, faithful to his principles of playing in motion, and effective recruitment, with among others the twirling scrum half Antoine Dupont, the electric South African winger Cheslin Kolbe or the impressive New Zealand third row Jerome Kaino. With the support of a few young shoots trained at the club such as Romain Ntamack and Thomas Ramos, the intense collective was quick to retouch the excellence. The national title in 2019 was a good sign of the comeback.

Winning above all

This year, it is almost the same who went to get the shield of Brennus. Eleven fellows in the field against La Rochelle were already there in 2019. A well-established affair, all in demonstration against Rochelais undoubtedly lacking experience for their first Top 14 final. fault, holding the game from start to finish. So certainly, the Toulousains did not enjoy, in a part anyway wrung out by the rain in the second half.

But it is also their trademark. The Rouge et Noir often air the game, adepts of the open sea and beautiful flights, and it is no coincidence that they have the best attack this season (92 tries scored). But when the matches come in the final stages, if the situation demands it, they also know how to win without glitter. Victory, first and foremost. During their unfailing domination, they had lined up four titles between 1994 and 1997 without scoring more than one try per final. In 2011, they were champions by settling for five penalties (15-10 against Montpellier). And just one more the following year to win against Toulon (18-12). The success against La Rochelle – three penalties, two drops – therefore only continues the series. Who never ceases to lie down. History will remember that Toulouse scored a 21e title to his record out of 28 finals played. Efficiency still proven.



Rugby: in Bordeaux-Bègles, Christophe Urios still tells his stories of men

With him, the right word is always sure. He points in the speech of Christophe Urios, the manager of the Union Bègles-Bordeaux, in a flood that rolls like his accent from the southwest: overflowing. Before the Top 14 semi-final against Stade Toulouse, Saturday June 19, the pearl arrives to ensure the ambition of his team: ” As Elon Musk says, “It’s possible for ordinary people to choose to be extraordinary”… There you have it, that’s the idea. To beat Toulouse, you have to be extraordinary.

The reference to the boss-billionaire of the company SpaceX is not anecdotal. Embark his world to touch the stars, work, convince, this is what occupies Christophe Urios, full time on the human management of his group. “Me, my job is to create this atmosphere around the club, in the team, which makes us move forward, with a common project”, did he just confide in Olympic noon. An alchemy to be found, which he also testifies in his book co-written in 2020, 15 leadership lessons – management as much as rugby -, placed under the motto of the All Blacks, “Being better never stops”.

Player, already a perfectionist

Christophe Urios, always in search of innovation and perfection. He was like that already a player. Not the most gifted of the gang, the hooker from Carcassonne in the 1980s, then from Castres the following decade, but, as his teammates at the time testify, the most relentless in training. We nickname him “the rustic”, so what? He was rewarded with a title of champion of France with Castres (in 1993), and a retraining without thinking about it but ultimately obvious. After putting away the crampons, Christophe Urios could have taken over the family vineyard in the Minervois, with his oenology diploma in the luggage. But no. His father was angry about it for a long time, but rugby won.

→ PORTRAIT. Vincent Merling, the guardian president of the Rochelle temple

Because the good man was reading, and in particular the Fundamentals of modern rugby (1994) by Pierre Conquet, a former Carcassonne and Racing winger who became a great oval theorist. The apostle of combat rugby nourishes the appetite for knowledge of an apprentice trainer Urios with the hopes of Castres, then the young people of the training center, then the guys of the pro team in the first half of the 2000s. fold is taken. Christophe Urios had not premeditated it, but he is a coach. A career well launched?

The collective above all

Not so sure. It begins with bitterness and nasty pills to swallow. Castres who sacked him in 2005, then two years at Bourgoin-Jallieu where he failed to forge this strong relationship with the players that he loved. He is on the verge of stopping. But a proposal comes from the Pro D2 club of Oyonnax. He signed for a 7-year adventure, which established his reputation. He takes the club to the Top 14 by transcending men, the famous “Oyomen”.

Experience builds it. He returned to Castres in 2015 for a new challenge, with an air of revenge. Three years later, he won the national title, as a leader of men, big mouth and big heart. The following year, rather than resting on his laurels, he announced his departure after the end of the season. Bad idea. His demobilized troops are unrecognizable and finish seventh. “Ineligible” sportingly, judge the boss, who will comment: “We acted like bastards”.

With his ease, it goes, but with some, it breaks. The leaders of Castres do not all mourn his departure, sometimes judging his self-centered swerves. He bounces back in Bordeaux, with a new “project” since that’s what fascinates him: taking the time to build. This time, however, he is going very quickly. The Bègles-Bordeaux Union was in the lead in 2020 when the Covid prematurely sounded the end of the game. This year, the team reaches the European semi-final and will therefore play this semi-final in the Top 14 on Saturday. Nice course.

Back to the roots

Christophe Urios savors. But it would put an end to the series of the neighbor of the Garonne, three times victorious this year (twice in Top 14 and in the continental semi-finals), just to nail the beak to the master of playing “Red and Black”, Ugo Mola, with whom he willingly scrapes verbally, the latter accentuating the opposition between his movement rugby more shimmering than the confrontation rugby of Christophe Urios. The question of style is however no longer quite relevant, the UBB playing a more unbridled game than the previous clubs of Christophe Urios. Proof that it can adapt while remaining efficient.

→ READ. Rugby: Toulouse Stadium European champion after an intense fight

As we get older, it is not excluded that Christophe Urios, 55, will improve further. Like a good wine, he who took advantage of the break from confinement to return to his roots by buying the wine estate where his father was manager during his childhood. A family story, his two brothers and his wife investing a lot in it. It’s always the same with him. The “Fair balance between valuing the collective and motivating individually”. In the field as in life. He’s doing it pretty well.



Christophe Dominici, Andrés Iniesta, Ian Thorpe… These great sportsmen who have suffered from depression

Often referred to as “superhumans” for their exceptional performance, many top athletes have acknowledged having struggled against a more surprising “adversary”: depression. Here are a few striking examples.

♦ Ian Thorpe (swimming)

Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe revealed in 2016 that he has struggled with depression since he was a teenager. The five-time Olympic champion was hospitalized with depression in 2014 after being found wandering and disoriented on a Sydney street.

→ DEBATE. Should we force athletes to respond to media requests?

“I am someone who has struggled with mental problems since I was a teenager”, he wrote on a blog for young people in 2016. “Seen from the outside, many could not see my suffering or understand the sometimes daily struggle I was facing”. “This is part of the integral deception of depression and mental disorders: what comes through may be totally different from the inner agony”.

In 2014, several months after receiving treatment, he came out and was applauded by the sports world for advancing the fight against homophobia.

♦ Michael Phelps (swimming)

The greatest swimmer in history, the American Michael Phelps also admitted to having suffered from depressive episodes.

Totaling 28 Olympic medals including 23 in gold gleaned between Sydney-2000 and Rio-2016, the American suffered from depression after each of the Olympics in which he participated. After London in 2012, he had spent days locked in a room, alone, during his most severe depression.

“I was able to achieve some incredible performances in the pools and I fought outside. There was a part of my life that I wouldn’t wish to know ”, recognized the American swimmer.

♦ Robert Enke (football)

Germany were particularly shocked by the suicide in 2009 of international goalkeeper Robert Enke who threw himself under a train. In 2014, Andreas Biermann, a former second division player at St. Pauli club and chronically depressed, also ended his life.

♦ Andrés Iniesta (football)

Former Spain international footballer Andrés Iniesta went through a depressive period at age 25, just after winning his second Champions League with FC Barcelona in 2009. This period coincides with the death by cardiac arrest of his friend from Espanyol. Barcelona Dani Jarque, to whom he would later dedicate his goal in the 2010 World Cup final.

“When I heard the news, I felt like I had received a punch, a very powerful blow that knocked me out and knocked me out a lot. I was not well at all ”, related the former Barça captain in a documentary dedicated to him, entitled “Andrés Iniesta, the unexpected hero”.

♦ Paul Gascoigne (football)

Another emblematic case, Paul Gascoigne. The 54-year-old former footballer with 57 caps for England, whom he led to the semi-finals of the 1990 World Cup, has suffered from alcoholism and depression for years.

♦ Tom Dumoulin (cycling)

Winner of the 2017 Giro, the Dutch rider Tom Dumoulin has been on the podium of a grand tour two more times (second in the Giro and the Tour de France in 2018). In 2017, he was world time trial champion, one year after winning the silver medal in this event at the Rio 2016 Olympics. Dumoulin announced on January 23, 2021 that he wanted ” to make a break “. He has since resumed competition and will notably participate in the Tokyo Games.

“Who knows where this will take me?” In any case, I will talk a lot with people, think, walk my dog ​​and find out what I want as a person, on the bike, and what I want to do with my life ”, explained the runner, relieved by his decision to take a break: “It’s like a hundred kilogram backpack has vanished from my shoulders. “

♦ Christophe Dominici (rugby)

The career of ex-rugby international Christophe Dominici, who died in November 2020 at the age of 48, has followed the sinuous trajectory of his life, from the sublime test against the All Blacks during the World Cup-99, to the darkest despair , which haunted him.

→ READ. Christophe Dominici, the untimely death of a gaming giant

In a book in 2007, Dominici returned to this depressive episode following various personal trials. “I played two World Cups with rubber bands on my back and never won. I took them off. I hope that will allow me to run faster “, he hoped then.



Rugby: Toulouse Stadium European champion after an intense fight

Rugby is a combat sport. The enunciation of this fundamental aspect of the discipline often offends the enthusiasms of lovers of beautiful getaways, of a spectacle as unbridled as it is exciting. But when the stake in addition is enormous, it is often this debate of the big arms which takes the top on the mad cavalcades of the back lines. And it was obviously immense, the stake of this Franco-French continental final Saturday, May 22 in Twinckenham between the two Stades, Toulouse and Rochelais.

The Toulousains were aiming for a fifth star for their jersey, a record since the creation of the competition in 1996. The Rochelais were hoping for a first line on their record, them the novices at these heights. It is the Toulouse people in the end who get their hands on this trophy (22-17), eleven years after their last victory, to experience in a way, even if on the meadow only the Occitan rear Maxime Médard was weighted with the memory. of the win in 2010. But it was terribly hard, terribly bitter, in a small chopped game by faults, stoppages to heal the warriors.

A fatal red card

An intense match, the game let go sparingly, defenses starving, stifling any hint of construction. This final was actually played on a fatal outburst, after half an hour in the first half. The Fijian center of La Rochelle, Levani Botia, is carried away on a tackle, his shoulder hitting in full swing the head of Maxime Médard. The sanction, after video verification, falls and changes the course of the match: red card. At 14 to 15, the case becomes extremely complicated for the Atlantic.

And the second half comes to confirm what was in a hurry. The Toulousains, while tactical intelligence, wait until they find the opening, score a first try and then take a ten point lead. The Rochelais to the end do not give up, astounding courage, even coming back to five points five minutes from the end. But weary. Valor cannot do everything, and the most astonishing team of this European campaign, victorious in particular in the semi-final of the Irish of Leinster (32-23) at the end of a monstrous game, remains at the dock, dreams drowned.

→ Portrait Vincent Merling, the guardian president of the Rochelle temple

The Toulousains follow the coronations won against French teams. If we except their first kidnapped against Cardiff, the Reds and Blacks won in 2003 against Perpignan with a similar score, then against Stade Français in 2005 and against Biarritz in 2010.

A great reward for Ugo Mola, the Toulouse strategist

The success of this Saturday confirms in any case the good health of hexagonal rugby. He offers a major title to the golden generation of Stade Toulouse who, from scrum half Antoine Dupont to opener Romain Ntamack, through back Thomas Ramos, also make the heyday of the Blues. It also recognizes the success of Ugo Mola, the Toulouse coach.

Arrived in the pink city in 2015 to replace the iconic Guy Novès, the former player remained upright in his boots during the turmoil of the first years, when the Toulouse Stadium seemed to run in vain after its former glory. Faithful to his principles, favoring training and offshore rugby, Ugo Mola, with the support of the leaders, won by removing the title of champion of France in 2019, and this European trophy that the club had been chasing for a decade.

At 48, he became the second coach to win the European Cup as a player (in 1996) and as a coach. And the party may not be over. Toulouse leads the Top 14, with a short lead over La Rochelle. A revenge to come, soon, in the French championship?

→ Survey The puzzle of multi-sports cities



Vincent Merling, the guardian president of the Rochelle temple

Apologize for being there? He’s not quite the type of guy. But on the eve of vibrating behind his Stade Rochelais on Saturday, May 22, in the final of the European Cup against the Stade Toulouse, there is at Vincent Merling the modesty of the modest. The one that prevents the president of the Atlantic club from fully realizing what is happening: yes, his team is indeed playing for the continental trophy and could therefore write a first line on his record by offering himself a major reward.

→ READ. The puzzle of multi-sport cities

Even this possibility of victory, Vincent Merling still struggles to believe it. Yet he does everything for, and for a long time, the valiant leader. Next June, he will celebrate his thirtieth birthday at the helm of the Stade Rochelais. No other oval president can tell such a story. A story which, for a long time, was a matter of well-tempered ambition.

Grow without rushing anything

And for good reason. When he took over the reins in 1991, the former third row Vincent Merling, then 41, was initially faced with difficulty. “The financial situation was bad, we had to save the club, he recalls. With other former players and friends, we embarked on the adventure, but without thinking about the very long term. “ Vincent Merling also finds himself bombarded as president because he is a company director, at the head of the Merling cafes. VSgave a slightly futuristic dimension, he jokes. We were not many at the time. “

It is not, however, a question of anticipating the call for professionalism which will prevail from the middle of the decade. “We did not have an identity very favorable to professionalism, underlines the president. When I wanted to create a club of partner companies, the candidates were not legion. We had to adapt, at our own pace and staying true to our values. “ Solidarity, sharing, sense of the collective, the club is built on these foundations and without haste. It titillates the elite at the turn of the century, but also descends sharply in the second division, to the point that the 2000s parade with a Stade Rochelais which seems in its place a tone below, second knife forever.

The rebound is a man’s business. “I am an emotional”, summarizes Vincent Merling. And the current passes from 2008 with the arrival of Pierre Venayre, a former player injured too early, loaded with diplomas and converted to manager. It was he who worked out the new development strategy, like a five-year plan, when Stade Rochelais climbed to Top 14, but was returned to ProD2 the following year. The project is called “Grandir ensemble” and runs until 2015. “I actually lived through more complicated seasons that made the institution suffer than great joys, comments Vincent Merling. To make a great team, you have to structure. It has become our priority: to ensure the sustainability of the club, the basis of everything. “

A real sense of belonging

The elevator brings the Yellow and Black back into the elite for the 2014-2015 season, and a second plan – called “Writing our history” – drives home the point. The Rochelais Stadium is now comfortable in its stadium renovated in 2017, taking advantage of its performance center inaugurated in 2018. It has more than 600 local partners. It enjoys a more than loyal audience, always sold out (13,000 subscribers out of a capacity of 16,000 seats). The budget (23 million euros this year) and the results follow (first place in the regular season in 2017, the podium this year with three days remaining).

→ ANALYSIS. Sport and health: these champions who last longer and longer

Now playing in the big leagues, is the club in danger of losing its soul? “I don’t think so, and the pandemic has shown it on the side of our partners and our subscribers. Solidarity is not an empty word here. There is a real notion of belonging in everyone. “ Which President Merling particularly cherishes. At the start of the year, the link could have loosened a bit with his candidacy for the presidency of the National Rugby League, pushed by his peers and assumed “Out of a sense of duty”. The former president of the Toulouse Stadium, René Bouscatel, was finally preferred to him, and Vincent Merling is hardly moved by it. “Suddenly, I stay 100% in La Rochelle. And I can live this final to the full. The worst thing for me is not being able to share it with the public because of health constraints. It’s heartbreaking. “ But now he can believe it: this kind of occasion, there will be others.


Toulouse for the pass of five

With a record still blank and a first in the final of the major continental competition, La Rochelle is obviously a Thumbs up against the Toulouse ogre. The Rouge et Noir will have their 7the European final, and will aim for a 5e crowned after those of 1996, 2003, 2005 and 2010. For their strategist Ugo Mola, it is the opportunity to become the first French to win the title as coach and as player (in 1996).



Sport and health: these champions who last longer and longer

At 43 years and nine months, Vitorino Hilton walked Sunday, May 16 for the last time on the lawn of the Montpellier stadium, where his club faced Brest. After the final trip to Nantes, Sunday 23, for the last day of Ligue 1, the Hérault defender will in principle retire. He will remain as the historic dean of all the major European championships.

Any record being called to be beaten, fifteen players are in the ranks in Ligue 1 to bring down that of Hilton. These 15 contenders have passed the age of 35, an age once considered the limit for the high level in pro football, a border surveyed by Zlatan Ibrahimovic who has largely contributed, at almost 40 years old, to bring AC Milan back to the top this season plan in Italy. Only a knee injury will prevent him from becoming, in June, the record holder for Euro football, under the colors of Sweden.

In the spring 40-year-old star category, he will be stolen the spotlight by Serena Williams and Roger Federer, who will blow out their 40 candles this summer after Roland-Garros (May 31-June 13). Former player and tournament director Guy Forget is blown away by the performance. “I admire these players who put themselves in danger in front of ambitious young people, explains the former Davis Cup captain. You have to love this game a lot and have a lot of energy to keep training every day. “

Seventh Super Bowl at 43

The diagnosis is shared by professor of physiology Jean-François Toussaint, director of the Institute for Biomedical Research and Sports Epidemiology: “Resistance to suffering and motivation are difficult to measure scientifically, but we know that they play an essential role, just like the ability to analyze one’s own sport: athletes able to take a step back last longer. “

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This theory holds true in practice for stars Federer, Williams or Ibrahimovic, who have all taken sabbaticals during their long run. And even more, according to Professor Toussaint, for his favorite case, the American football player Tom Brady, who won this season at 43 his seventh Super Bowl by playing only the important games.

“He’s at a post (quarterback) where he doesn’t need the muscle power of the forwards or the speed of the wingers. He distributes the game, he is the playing master, the one who reads the opponent’s defense. These qualities progress over time. “

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Well protected behind his forwards, preserved in training, Tom Brady keeps most of his influx for matches. Like Philippe Gilbert, a 38-year-old Belgian road star who is currently trying his hand at mountain biking to break with the monotony of cycling. Or Roger Federer, who in recent years has reduced his appearances as much as possible to lower the risk of injury, the multiplication of which shortens careers.

A cyclist who falls often does not last

“A runner who falls a lot does not last long”, Thomas Voeckler repeats at length on the air, a late retired cyclist (at 38) who became a commentator on France 2. Same observation with Johan Clarey, the dean of the French ski team: “I was lucky not to have too many glitches in the second half of my career, which is what gave me the desire and the confidence to continue”, said the descender during the last World Championships in Cortina d’Ampezzo, in which he participated a month after his 40th birthday.

“The injuries, the mental and the quality of training are essential, but they are part of a general progress of the physical condition of humanity”, tempers Professor Toussaint. “The increase in the length of careers and the increase in the length of a healthy life are linked, he continues. This is especially true in developed countries where advances in medicine, science and medical imaging are in full swing. Conversely, in countries where social inequalities in access to medicine are still strong, the longevity of athletes increases less. “


Not all sports are created equal

Studies carried out for more than twenty years on the increase in the length of careers show that longevity also depends on the discipline. If it remains relatively short in combat disciplines or team contact sports (rugby), it has experienced a strong increase in less traumatic team sports, such as football, handball or basketball. Ditto in individual strategy sports, such as fencing or tennis. It takes off in so-called worn disciplines (swimming, cycling or horse riding) or mechanical and nature sports (sailing, trail).