XV of France – Charles Ollivon, Virimi Vakatawa: off the hook, these two executives?

Analysis – While this tour of Japan had been thought of primarily as “an incubator for young talent” in the words of Fabien Galthié, it was nevertheless marked by the return of the injury of iconic executives from the start of his mandate, in the image of Captain Charles Ollivon or central three-quarters Virimi Vakatawa. And if these two parties had the merit of putting their foot down in the blue, it is clear that their performances do not allow for the time being to reverse the order established during the last Grand Slam. What arouses some fears about your future? Answers here …

Ollivon, state without screws

We have had occasion to return to this subject many times in these same columns: if Charles Ollivon had been appointed captain of the XV of France at the beginning of the Galthié era, it was by no means a coincidence. Driven “assistant like the others” alongside Jacques Brunel to prepare for the World Cup in Japan, the future coach had been marked by the selflessness and endurance of the Toulon, who had just returned from his serious shoulder injury , able to pass as a reservist. to the normal state in a few weeks of preparation. “For me, Japan is a great memory,” recalled the captain of the blues in the middle of the week. In 2019 I was returning from an injury and a few weeks later I was here in Japan for the World Cup. There’s a bit of a parallelism for me on this tour. It brings me a lot of happiness and good memories. When I had the opportunity to be called by the staff, I was very happy. Many things came back to me. »

A career that then married perfectly with the one that Galthié symbolically dreamed of for his XV of France, the charisma and natural leadership of Ollivon making him the ideal captain to begin the term of the new coach. The stratospheric performances of the Basque on the pitch (to the point of finishing as the best scorer of rehearsals for the 2020 Tournament) finally convince everyone of their legitimacy in this important role …

More above the competition

Unfortunately, a rupture of the cruciate ligaments that occurred in June 2021 in Castres ruined this good balance. Evidently, in the name of this old principle that the absentees are always wrong, the Basque lost practically everything during his convalescence. First, his place in the third row, Anthony Jelonch settling in with more confidence under No. 7 as he forced the squad to imagine unsuspected solutions (like Woki in the second row) to keep the balance in the package keeping it as a holder. But also his status as captain, which Antoine Dupont did much more than assume as under his leadership, the XV of France achieved the feat of defeating the Blacks in November and then winning the Grand Slam calmly. Justifying with this responsibility, with his influence with the referees, his condition of better player of the world …

Only, in sport and in rugby in particular, the wheel of destiny does not stop spinning. Thus, after an international season spent off the field, Ollivon had the opportunity to surf both in his convincing return with the RCT (which coincided with the good dynamics of the Varois season finale) and for the absence of “premium” executives and finalists, to make their return through the front door. To which he coincided (as expected or almost) the role of captain, first to lead the British barbarians then the blues in Japan.

Laporte, a small sentence full of meaning

A role in which the Saint-Pée ​​boy returned to play his role perfectly on Saturday, making the right strategic decisions (like this penalty kick he tried to pick up at 1pm at 3pm) or weighing on the referee’s decisions, such as the try rejected by the Japanese five minutes from the end. “In action, I hear very quickly the guys around me saying,‘ Come on! », He said. So I ask the referee to review … ”. An influence in the lobby but also in the strategy as, in charge of contact announcements, Ollivon contributed greatly to the almost full card of the blues (only one ball lost in two games for more than 30 wins). The truth is that the role of a rugby player is not limited to leadership, and that is precisely where the shoe pinches …

Because if Ollivon got two performances in Japan without much waste, he never gave the impression of having regained the level he had two years ago. It is not enough, in any case, to question the order established during the last eight matches, where the Cros-Alldritt-Jelonch hat-trick had met all expectations. What to question its legitimacy in the initial XV? Except in case of injury or other extra-sporting circumstances, we can at least fear it for him. Especially because on the subject of captaincy, Bernard Laporte had made an unequivocal speech at the end of the last Tournament in our columns: ” Lthe head of this team is Dupont “ had decided the president of the FFR. A question that Fabien Galthié will also have to answer before the fall, the last bend before the straight that will lead to the World Cup …

Virimi is going to row

It is not for nothing that coach Fabien Galthié and his assistant in charge of the attack, Laurent Labit, have a particular affection for Virimi Vakatawa. Because the child is lovely in the first place. But especially because they were at the origin of their real international outburst, during the last World Cup in Japan. Remember: when it comes to replacing Geoffrey Doumayrou in full preparation for the 2019 World Cup, it was those who then officiated as “simple consultants” of Jacques Brunel who made it clear to his former coach in Colomiers that the right person was still the Racingman, until then a little. shunned by Brunel in the name of alleged deficiencies in defense. We know the rest by heart, who saw that “Viri” formed with Gaël Fickou an exceptional pair of centers in the land of the Rising Sun, which even became in the eyes of many observers a world reference.

Unfortunately, this improvement only lasted for a while, which was lost at the confluence of the years 2020-2021. The Racing 92 center-back has seen his form deteriorate symmetrically to his confidence level since January 2021, between his ball in goal against RCT de Villière, the old remnants of a knee injury, the remnants of a broken rib and a few extra pounds that never allowed him to continue in the Tournament with the Blues. Add to this that due to the covid pandemic, Vakatawa has been away from his family in Fiji for almost two years, and you will understand a little better why poor Virimi undeniably dragged his feet and moped, gradually losing its level and status. Everything that this tour of Japan, based on his ancient exploits, sought to make him rediscover …

Labit: “We expect more and better from him”

However, after these two tests played in Japan, the doubts are not rented, much less. In charge of the role of captain of the defense in the absence of Gaël Fickou, Vakatawa did his job in some way, although some collective mistakes in the end could have been avoided with better communication. A presence that was also found in the attack, the gaze of the defenders was naturally attracted to Vakatawa in his races with a bait or with the ball, which allowed him to open spaces directly or indirectly to his teammates. As proof of this, he delivered two decisive passes to his ends Penaud and Lebel in so many tests, the last one in Tokyo bore the seal of a skill and magic still intact. “Virimi is someone important to us, but also to the players around him, especially for Yoram Moefana who trusts him a lot. attacking coach Laurent Labit argued before the match. It gives him confidence and also helps him, in addition to his quality as a player. He also gives us confidence in his experience and with everything he gives to our young team and, from this point of view, he has met our expectations. Although it is of course that individually, we hope that Virimi does even more and better … “

Cruel comparison to Moefana

A better one that remains, according to the old proverb, the enemy of good. Because without wanting to offend the interested party, what the coach as the running person expects in the first place from Virimi Vakatawa is not to talk to his teammates to reassure them, but to be the X factor of the tricolor attack. , able to arrange as well as cross or play after contact. Everything that the Racingman achieved without really achieving it during the second test, like this lost pass with Penaud or these little coats tried as desperate, but still well covered by half Japanese scrum …

A lack of success that, to tell the truth, contrasted with that of his alter ego Yoram Moefana, forceful, impressive and enough “talk” to embody the man in the shape of the moment in the middle of the field, in a cruel comparison. So, knowing that the Gironde represents more than ever the future at the height of its 21 years and that so many executives like Gaël Fickou, Jonathan Danty or Arthur Vincent have remained in the country, we must fear for the very cool thirty years- old that the 2023 World Cup train just passed in front of you? To tell the truth, if we had not been convinced of the extraordinary talent of man, we would not have hesitated to write it. Wishing you that in the future, Vakatawa will make us lie …

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