Interview – Yoann Maestri: “I want to completely cut rugby”

Like other iconic Top 14 players, Yoann Maestri (65 games) hung up his boots at the end of last season. He returns to the reasons for this choice and the memories of his career, after different outings in Toulon, Toulouse, Paris and the French national team.

How have you felt since your decision to leave rugby?

I am very happy with my choice. In September I think there will be a small puncture in my heart when I see my friends back on the field, but I’m not sure, because I’m happy with what I’ve been able to get to know during my sporting life. Now I look forward.

Was there a click?

It happened slowly, with time and workouts. Rugby is becoming more demanding. The average age of the teams is declining. In recent years, young people have been arriving with phenomenal energy. There are also many good things for French rugby, with the Jiffs (players of the French formation, note of the publisher). Young players take their chance. Over the years, you feel a little less chills, so you have to know how to listen to yourself and not exaggerate the season. Play for the right reasons and keep your passion alive. Sometimes it’s better to leave. 35 is the average age. Some leave a little earlier, others go a little further. And then there is also the body and the head …

Was physical fatigue the determining factor?

I think it’s mostly mental fatigue, the desire to have something more in life. Switch to another equally impressive life and take on new challenges.

You finished your career at the Stade Français, the only club where you didn’t win any titles. What do you remember from your four years there?

A complex adventure with many changes. It was mixed. We had great moments with snatch victories, but few. Sportingly, it was tricky. Paradoxically, I enjoyed my life here in Paris. I will also remember certain encounters with players who have been at the club for years and who make the future more positive than we have done in the past.

What went wrong?

I do not know. But if I did, I would keep it to myself and those interested. I don’t like to talk about it too much. If we had won, I wouldn’t make a mountain of it either, because it’s a matter of very little. There is a club that laughs at the end of the year and thirteen that cry. We were too far from the final battle. When you’re so far away, there are several things that don’t work.

Internally, was there any word among you after the home defeat against Brive? (17-33) during the 26th day of the Top 14?

(sigh) No, it was the end of a dull season. The most important thing is to look ahead and change certain behaviors, otherwise the facts will happen again. There are so many things that go fast in this sport. It takes a commitment and a strong desire to believe in it.

Go back to your personal journey. You played for the French national team from 2012 to 2018, often being an undisputed starter. What memories do you have with the Blues?

It was complicated in terms of results but strong in terms of the energy we put into it. Wonderful memories remain for you to represent your country. Unfortunately, at the level of the 6 Nations Tournament or our overseas tours, we didn’t fight for the top spots. Despite changes in players and staff, the results remained the same.

Did you disagree with this billing?

No. Rugby is made of human adventures. The staff took their choices. If he was there, he deserved it. No one was making sure we couldn’t get there. There were no expected results, so there was rotation.

By comparison, what is your vision of the current team?

The boys seem to be very well prepared. They are focused on their role on the pitch. Despite the lack of common experience, there is great confidence in this team. I was amazed at the result of the British barbarians, especially the French, who put fifty to the English at Twickenham. (June 21-52, June 19) with a week of preparation and a few snacks! But also for the ten victories that follow, including the last two in Japan with players who participate a little in training and then arrive with great mental preparation. They do not doubt their performance. You have to practice a lot. The team is impressive in terms of presence and consistency. There is a huge pool.

Are there any players that score you more than the others?

(He thinks) Gregori Alldritt. He is important in La Rochelle and in the French national team. His energy in the field is phenomenal. He catches shots on defense and shows a great volume of play, hurts the defense and manages to play standing, behind him. I find it very complete and mentally hard. It does not weaken. His energy tires opponents.

Don’t you regret too much not having played with this XV of France?

Honestly, no. I do not regret it. My life is not just about rugby. Sometimes you do everything and it doesn’t work. And there are times when you arrive a little by chance, and everything smiles at you. I know a lot of players I played with when they were a little younger. They deserve it. I know what it’s like to have much more negative results, so I also imagine what it must be like to win these games. It is necessary to emphasize the quality of the work of these players and their preparation. What they are doing is not easy, but it is very beautiful.

A Pro D2 shield with Toulon in 2008, a European Cup and two Brennus with Toulouse in 2010, 2011 and 2012. What do you remember about your seasons at Rugby Club Toulonnais and Stade Toulousain?

There was strong competition, whether in Toulon or Toulouse. I wanted to give myself 200% to look for common goals, not to let go, to dominate our rivals. I was very lucky to have experienced this. These moments make us men a little later. Moments of great solidarity, commitment and defeats keeping us together. I am grateful to have experienced them.

So you are proud of your career.

Pride is very ego and you can do without it. In life, there are always difficult times. We may be demanding, but the moments we have lived through are magnificent and promising for the future. We must have the humility to say that we are lucky to have experienced all of this.

Was there a more meaningful title for you?

No, because every title was magnificent. It crowned a long, hard, but very beautiful season.

A word about Guy Novès, your coach at Toulouse from 2009 to 2015 and at the French national team from 2016 to 2017?

He was our mentor. Someone very demanding, very difficult, but also very close to their players. He taught us the way to a very high level. He is eager to win. He is an amazing competitor.

He was recently courted by the South African Stormers franchise. Why didn’t the exchanges go further?

Stormers manager John Dobson contacted me for a year. But today, the South African provinces have stations similar to those in Europe. Training resumes in July or August, and the season ends in June. I told him I didn’t feel able to commit to 200%.

Was there any doubt?

No, just a thought.

Tell us about your retraining after your career.

I will be away from rugby for a while but it will still be the sport that has brought me a lot to life. I stay in Paris where I have an artistic direction, creation and communication agency with my brother, which has nothing to do with rugby, at least for now. It excites me and my life will be full. Why not come back in a few years to coach a youth team and see what it’s like to interact with young players? I guess it must be exciting. It will be in a second half. There, I want to cut completely with rugby. It’s just a moment in life. We stop our career at 35, we are still young men. If you make a world out of this life, you never recover.

What will you remember about this great adventure at the highest level?

(Think for a long time) I’ve never been very good at talking about my emotions related to my sport. I will keep a magnificent picture of it from beginning to end, of my youthful years with childhood friends, after my moments in Toulon. There, players like Soane Toevalu, Philip Fitzgerald or José Suta accompanied me when I was a very young rugby player, among all the stars of the time in Toulon, coached by Tana Umaga. Then there were the years in Toulouse, the France national team and the French stadium. It’s a big picture that is personal to me. I’ve always given it my all. Although pejorative, my rugby was not really about ball, but mostly about collective commitment for fifteen men to take charge of fifteen more on the field. To be able to meet again an hour, a week or ten years later, having the great emotions of shared fights.

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