Source: INPHO

When do I retire? – Shock Announcements

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It’s not unusual to find players retiring at the end of a busy season, least of all after a World Cup, but news that both Laure Sansus and Céline Ferer are planning to hang up their boots comes as a real shock. Sansus, only 27 years old and the 2022 Six Nations Player of the Tournament, will be sorely missed by her country and by the world of rugby.

At least Sansus and Ferer intend going on to the World Cup. Any other decision would have caused an earthquake in French rugby circles.

For members of a national coaching staff it is rarely their privilege to decide when to retire. News breaks that both Samuel Cherouk and Stephane Eymard have left the French set-up. They were in charge respectively of the forwards and the backs. A tenth loss to les Anglaises proved the last straw. Responsibilities for French shortcomings had to be laid at their door.

The Players

The diminutive Sansus rapidly overtook Pauline Bourdon in the key position of No 9 for France. She became a constant worry to opposing back-rows, able to use a full armoury of skills to deceive them. Her speed of thought and action put her team on the front foot time and again. Her kicking skills opened up yet more avenues for them.

Ferer, capped 51 times in the second and back rows, has been an invaluable contributor to French success. She played a leading role in the recent 6 Nations, adding vital ammunition to the French line-out, which has rarely been one of their strong points.

Both play for Stade Toulousain who will be losing three other players. This is a severe blow for one of the top clubs in the nation, but they will surely be able to fill the gaps with other leading talents.

Behind this news lurks a story that has hardly been told. Ferer played previously for AS Bayonne, at the ground where England recently completed their fourth Grand Slam.

I was surprised, to say the least, that the FFR was happy to stage the big game there after the unsavoury events at the end of last year, when club players refused to play a match because of the neglect the administration had shown them.

Another one who left Bayonne during the troubles is Bourdon. Why she chose to join Stade Toulousain is far from obvious, as there she would be competing for the No 9 shirt with Sansus. Of course, there are delights in joining a club of all the talents. And now she can look forward to undisputed employment as the leading scrum-half. Till now she could be sure of 50% activity at best.

The Staff

Cherouk had been in charge of the forwards since 2017, but his place in the hierarchy had looked in jeopardy once Thomas Darracq was brought in last year to be in charge of Project Sport, a rather romantic sounding position. This made him the second voice (after Annick Hayraud) in the French firmament.

Cherouk had to be held responsible for the French pack’s inability to answer Red Rose strengths, though fair-minded people might wonder whether any part-time pack can hope to stand four-square against a full-time one. Well, they certainly did for a number of seasons at the set-scrum. But that could not continue as Louis Deacon arrived to sort out any remaining weaknesses in English techniques.

With the benefit of hindsight we might wonder whether changes in management might not have come sooner.

It was fascinating to see the differing training methods employed. Cherouk was noticeable for his loud, almost hectoring voice as he pushed his charges through their training sessions. It was hard to find an English counterpart who followed the same approach.

New Staff

Now we know: Gaëlle Mignot is appointed to a post concentrating on the scrum and contact phases. This makes her the only woman in elite international rugby to specialise in this area.

She has a most distinguished record as player and captain, appearing in three World Cups and winning a Grand Slam in 2014. More recently she has been assisting the French squad, so will not take long to settle in.

Sharing pack duties will be David Ortiz, formerly forwards coach at Agen. He will look after the line-out and defence.

That leaves the backs and attack to be catered for, unless Darrack assumes that role.

This double appointment must mean that the changes had been contemplated way back, and likely replacements assessed.

Not the smoothest approach to a World Cup, but Hayraud and Darrack remain in place. We can think of other leading contenders who are undergoing more convulsive changes.