“La Rochelle is the fittest team in the league”

Montpellier won both regular season games against Les Rochelais (1). Did you find the key?

Oh, I think the Stade Rochelais was not the same as today, while we were in a more positive period. I think mostly of the return match (23-29) during which we can’t hide it, we were successful. Nor did they have their best players, apart from Uini (Atonio) who was there (ed., The match took place at the end of January during the practices of the XV of France). Let’s not brag. I don’t pay much attention to these matches, it won’t have anything to do with it.

Really?

In my opinion, La Rochelle is the most dangerous and fitest team in the league. We’ve all had our ups and downs: Bordeaux a while ago, Toulouse, La Rochelle and now it’s our turn. This competition is close to the heart of Rochelais, it’s a little less like that for us. We were more focused on the championship. But now that we’re here …

Montpellier won both regular season games against Les Rochelais (1). Did you find the key?

Oh, I think the Stade Rochelais was not the same as today, while we were in a more positive period. I think mostly of the return match (23-29) during which we can’t hide it, we were successful. Nor did they have their best players, apart from Uini (Atonio) who was there (ed., The match took place at the end of January during the practices of the XV of France). Let’s not brag. I don’t pay much attention to these matches, it won’t have anything to do with it.

Really?

In my opinion, La Rochelle is the most dangerous and fitest team in the league. We’ve all had our ups and downs: Bordeaux a while ago, Toulouse, La Rochelle and now it’s our turn. This competition is close to the heart of Rochelais, it’s a little less like that for us. We were more focused on the championship. But now that we’re here …

Your team continues with three straight defeats (2). Beyond these results, do you notice any worrying signs?

No, don’t worry. In fact, it is part of our history. A year ago we had a very tricky season that finally ended well (Editor’s note, the MHR had been having trouble keeping it for a long time). We have restarted with a lot of energy but due to the postponements of the Covid that we have now updated, this is our fourteenth consecutive week. More than fatigue, I think we feel mental fatigue. This resulted in serious injuries to major players.

“They don’t love us like the Stade Rochelais or Toulouse. If we have to use it, let’s do it”

Are you thinking of Paul Willemse in particular?

Yes. Willemse (Editor’s note, knee-jerk), but also in front of Serfontein, Doumayrou, Arthur Vincent, Reinach … We don’t have an inflated staff, it hurts us. Even though our team is resilient, we have to reinvent ourselves a little bit every day. We’ve extracted a lot of our resources mentally, we get a little blunt. Suddenly, at the time of the conclusion, we are a little more feverish.

A few weeks ago you said that there would inevitably be a time when you would have to face a very low performance. Was this reaction predictable?

We showed character even when we lost at the start of the season – we played 17 games and took at least one point everywhere. It was great in terms of mood, but I suspected there would be some relaxation. We anticipated it by changing our weeks a bit, but for me, that’s part of our growth. We will recover. In particular, we will be ready in the Top 14 to get a few points against Racing to qualify and then we will go to Clermont to qualify in the top four or top six. The season will have been good, but I think the players want more. We too, of course.

And the Champions Cup in all this?

It will spin a bit. The players who went to Harlequins were not unworthy. Surely there will be a mix between experienced and young players … We’ll see, but since La Rochelle is aiming for this competition, it could be hot with the potential they have.

2 Montpellier is back this season

To explain your position as a leader, you often say that you used it last season. How?

In these difficult times! We didn’t get carried away when we didn’t lose for ten games because we knew where we were coming from. And in the same way, since things are not going so well now, we will not fall into darkness. We are building something. We are perhaps the Stade Rochelais of four or five years ago: there are moments of euphoria and others when we are less well off. A team is built long term, we are in the 1st year of our contents.

Personally, you came to the squad during the season, in January 2021. Then you experienced the eviction of Xavier Garbajosa … How does it help you?

When I got to Xavier’s side, he was defending. Paradoxically, I liked it even though it is a bit nasty. Players have also had a good defense for a long time. When Xavier was expelled, some rethinking was done. I used our mistakes. I looked at the profile of our team and the rugby we wanted to do before: it wasn’t possible. We went back to the things that the players thought they did best.

Is that to say?

They participated in everything. Since they are the ones who put the stones on the wall, they don’t want it to break. Gradually, we try to hold the ball a little longer. But we must not lose our qualities in defense, by gaining ground with our feet. I’m not obsessed with first place or the European Cup, I’m in a construction process of more than two or three years now that we have resigned (Editor’s note, until 2025 with Philippe Saint-André, his manager, and Olivier Azam, head of strikers). Don’t worry …

“I don’t like rugby at all. But it will come “

Where do you identify the trigger for your group?

The little European Cup did us a lot of good last year. I found resources in men. We used this competition to look for a title – it’s not the biggest, but it’s one anyway. When we restarted this season, we told ourselves we had found our DNA. We know we don’t like it, this club maintains the image it had a few years ago with South Africans. We believe this was our strength.

Do you play

No. But we need to identify who we are, where we come from and where we are going. But we really didn’t know who we were. And this end of the season has allowed us to know: we are a team that does not give up, that has a strong mind, that is very realistic. If it’s us, then let’s go! I know where we want to go. It will take time, but there are resources and a quality workforce. We are not loved like the Stade Rochelais or the Toulouse. If we have to use it, let’s do it. Is it like that.

3 The game of Montpellier and the passive South African

You said there was a “South African responsibility” in Montpellier. Did you come across it?

I have a background in La Rochelle, a culture in Toulouse. When I took over, number 9 was South African, number 10 (Pollard), number 12 (Serfontein) and one side as well (Goosen), and our number 13, which was English (Lozowski), was one of the Saracens who have a south. African culture. They wanted game plans so they could come out later because they could. You had to use your strengths first. This is where we got it wrong in the beginning. The rugby I like is not exactly what we do today. But it will come.

Are you satisfied with this development?

Lately we are talking about moving the ball more and the men. But paradoxically, when we wanted to develop it, we lost in defensive quality and occupation. I often talk to Geoffrey (Doumayrou) who is a pure rugby player: if he understands the game of dispossession, he wants to touch balls, attack. He is in a hurry because he is ahead of the game, having experienced the construction of the La Rochelle game. But I tell him we can’t be. A month before the arrival, we are already doing very well what we know how to do. How long has Ronan O’Gara been here?

From 2019.

Start seeing the maturity of your team. In all areas, they have between 15 and 20/20. They are installed on top of the French and European basket.

“We may also be a little exaggerated compared to our intrinsic potential.”

Evolution in statistics

MONTPELLIER, STEP BY STEP. Lastingly marked by South African DNA, established during the years of Jack White (2014-2017), the MHR has long been reduced to frontal, monolithic animation. A trend based on the profile of the players who make up the squad, as explained by Jean-Baptiste Elissalde. The game of the Hérault retains, therefore, strong markers: game of kicks – one of the teams of the Top 14 that has used it more during 2 years -, tendency to the dispossession (49%, 9th of the Top 14), solidity defensive … But the lines move slowly. The MHR makes more passes after the contact (7th in the Top 14 instead of the 12th), crosses more the lead line (3rd against 9), scores more tries (7th attack against the 12th last year).

You lived the 2019 World Cup, the integration into the staff, the expulsion of a manager … Have you evolved?

I learned by looking at the others: the Welshmen who were stripping the ball, the Englishmen who were doing it. When I arrived in Montpellier, I learned that it was first necessary to focus on the available players before thinking about the match, although we have great convictions … I won titles in Toulouse when I was, I think, much less a good coach than now . My only certainty is that when I won, I had great players around me. And this is the same everywhere.

Having already won titles, do you feel the small vibrations in Montpellier?

Uh no. I think we can also be a little exaggerated compared to our intrinsic potential. Players make up for our youth with an incredible mood. We are overcoming it a bit. When I see the game played by La Rochelle, Toulouse, Bordeaux or even Toulon right now, we are not so complete. We haven’t achieved much this season, but you need a lot of freshness in terms of money time. […] Then the story can be magnificent. Because there is the men’s dressing room: the end of Guilhem Guirado, the end of Fufu Ouedraogo, some emblem that may leave us. The boys want to do something for them. Even when we lose, they mobilize. They played for us this weekend (in Lyon), they talked a lot … I think there is something. But aren’t we too young? I don’t know, I don’t get carried away.

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