Demba Bamba – Pillar of France’s XV During the 2019 World Cup – The Lyon right-back (24 years old) was already part of the French group on a trip to Japan. And for him, who then had to leave the archipelago during the competition, the notion of second chance takes on its full meaning today …
The last time we saw you, you were handing out rugby spots and shirts to the kids in your neighborhood …
Exactly! It was at Saint-Denis town hall, just before Christmas. There were more than two hundred children that day. If I could do it every year and who knows, pushing some into rugby would be great. […] Saint-Denis is my home. As soon as I have a free weekend, I’ll be back. In fact, it’s as if he never left …
The vocations were born in Saint-Denis, after your first selections for the selection of France?
Yes, a few. The last one is in addition to my brother’s. At the age of 31, he wanted to get his 93 card. However, he is the weakest in the family: he has to weigh 1.75 m and 80 kg …
Are you from a family of rugby players?
No way. I was the first to taste it and my little sister followed me. Now he plays Bobigny: a bit of a winger, a bit of a second line … But he’s on the first team, eh!
How did you get started?
He was then 12 years old and in seventh grade. In college, during interclass competitions, we tried a little bit in all disciplines and one day, against the fourth, I scored every time I caught the ball. Even the guys who played club rugby had a hard time facing me! I really liked …
Didn’t you do sports at that time?
Yes, full! I was already playing handball, judo and I said to myself: “if I add a third sport, my father will kill me …” But I still went to see the Saint-Denis club and then the weekends were busy: on saturday i played a handball match and in the afternoon a rugby match. The next day, he was competing in judo. But okay …
I was tireless at that age.
Would you do it again?
Impossible. But the hand still serves me well today, at the level of short supports, for example.
What level did you have in judo?
A good level, I think. I was the lightest in the heavyweight category: there were guys weighing 1.90 m and 125 kg … But judo was really a great experience.
Because my judo teacher made me understand that we had to stop shit and become a straight man. At the time, I really enjoyed fighting. I never provoked but when my friends said to me, “Come on, Demba! There is a fight against the university ahead! “, I went straight there …
So why did you choose rugby?
I flourished in team sports and it was in rugby where I reached levels faster. After college, I went to Brive. I was 16 years old.
He is young…
Originally, I was supposed to sign for Bourgoin, but my mom didn’t want me to. She didn’t want me to be alone and since my brother lived in Corrèze at the time … That’s how it was, what …
We follow you …
I had to fight, though, to show everyone that I was making the right decision. My coach at Saint-Denis was against it. I hated that big clubs came looking for such young players … I knew I had to leave to be successful.
To say the least, I was the only guy from a federal club who played for the Ile-de-France national team. Around me, there were only guys from Massy, Stade Français or Racing. As I rubbed against them, I could see that I was missing something. I was number 2, in his eyes. Going to Brive was the only opportunity to progress.
Was it hard to uproot at first?
Yes, mostly because due to an administrative problem the first year I played little. My brother pressured me, said he wasn’t evolving. Then I almost returned to the Paris region at that time. I even did some testing at the Stade Français. But it wasn’t too hot to take me. It wasn’t until later, when I got my little fifteen square foot room in Brive and was able to lead my little life that it all really started. In crabs, I even ended up being the team’s top scorer.
What was your childhood dream?
I grew up in Saint-Denis, with the Stade de France in the spotlight. My dream was to play there one day …
You have done it…
Yes. But I don’t want to stop here.
Let’s talk a little about this tour of Japan. How did you experience the first test?
Japanese scrum is quite solid. Their pillars also have a lot of experience. The guy in front of him (Keita Inagaki, editor’s note) was, for example, the most covered on the team. […] At Toyota there was room to do more. Clearly we have room for improvement and we all know it.
Is this your first trip to Japan?
No, I was already there during the 2019 World Cup. I had played a few games, I even came into play against Argentina, replacing Rabah (Slimani). But behind, I injured my hamstrings in training and had to go back to France (Cedate Gomes-Sa replaced him in the squad). Basically, it ended badly and that’s why I really wanted to come back here this year. I wanted to complete the adventure, somehow …
What can be the motivation lever of the French team, after having passed more than forty points to the Japanese during the first test?
Not everything was perfect at Toyota, especially in the first half when we had problems. This weekend, we will have to master the thing, master our subject and impose our rugby.
Have you had time to visit Tokyo?
A little yes. The people are very nice here. When they pass in front of us, they smile at us and say “arigato” (thank you). I also discovered some good restaurants in Tokyo. The rice is cooked perfectly.
I got into it recently, yes. I try African dishes. I prepare the “chicken mafé” (a sauce dish made with peanut paste) quite well and sometimes I even try a “thieb” (cooked dish from Senegal). But it is more difficult, with fish …
Are you doing well?
Not bad at all … In fact, I bought a Japanese kitchen knife here. It will be useful to me when I get home.
Have you always enjoyed the closed scrum sector?
At first, I didn’t like it. I started number 8 and I loved carrying the ball. At 18, when I was put on the front line, it took me a while to get used to the idea. But I learned to like it over time …
What do you really like about this showdown?
In melee, you have the power to psychologically mark your direct opponent. As he advances, the boy in front sees him as a humiliation. He lowers his head, loses his means: then he grabs your shirt, connects you a little … There, you know you’ve won your duel. But you also know that you can lose the next …
Do you have to commit violence at some point in your career? Didn’t you rely too much on your natural qualities at some point in your life?
Maybe yes … I think above all I was too prudent, not ambitious enough.
When I landed in Lyon two years ago, I got there thinking I would be Francisco Gomez-Kodela’s replacement. One day, Pierre (Mignoni) took me to his office and told me he didn’t accept it from me. I wanted it to be number 1 and behave like one. It was a real click, for me.
What was the danger, in fact?
I don’t want people to say of me, “Bamba is an eternal hope. He’s the guy who didn’t get it. “No way. I want to fight and progress, again.