No blues for blanco

France's great free spirit defends current side and says upset not impossible

Mick Cleary

FORMER France full-back Serge Blanco has fond recollections of the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987 and not because he scored one of the most memorable tries the tournament has witnessed to clinch a semi-final victory over Australia with a sweeping, length-of-the-field movement in the last minute. No, Blanco remembers 1987 for other reasons.

"It was like making love for the first time," said Blanco, the great free spirit of the age. "Nobody knew what to expect."

Given that the France hotel at Takapuna on Auckland's north shore was nicknamed 'Mon Desir', it's easy to see why the players have such sweet memories. But that try, one that has been talked about ever since, surely that is a treasured memento? "No, that is an anecdote for other people, a detail, something that is out there for all the world to know, a piece of sport of the day," Blanco said.

"My two greatest souvenirs are the times we spent in the changing room with the Fijian players after the quarter-final, drinking, singing and sharing each other's company. It was an exceptional moment of fraternity.

"And then, the day after the final against New Zealand (which France lost 29-9) we all came together at Mon Desir, the All Blacks with their wives and children, we as French players, and we ate and had a party together. That, for me, was Rugby World Cup 1987. That is what you remember 24 years later, not the incidents of a game.

"You mustn't minimise the sporting part but, even so, it was not the principal thing. It was about human relationships."

Blanco, a vice-president of the French union and chairman of Biarritz, has his concerns for those of the modern generation who treat rugby as if they were "commercial travellers, clocking on and off for work".

Prior to that extraordinary semi-final in Sydney, the French players were out on the town in a bowling alley until the early hours.


"But all that seems like pre-history now, so long ago and so different," Blanco said.

"Life is different. Then it was a shared experience, with the media and everything. We had fun together, and didn't care what was going on. Rugby was our common bond.

"Now, everybody has a view on everything, and so wants to know everything. Everybody passes opinion. Society has changed, and players with it. Each lives to their époque. So, even if I loved what we did all those years ago, it doesn't mean that you need to recreate it now."

Blanco bumped into one of those 1987 All Blacks last Saturday night, prop Steve McDowell, shortly after France had beaten Wales in one of the most negative performances ever by a French team. Certainly it was a far cry from the swashbuckling style associated with Blanco in his pomp. He and McDowell broke bread and supped together until 4am.

Would all that happen now? Have France not betrayed a great heritage in being so limited and introverted against 14-man Wales?

"First, let me say, it should have been a yellow card, not red, although I know the referee was obeying the law book," Blanco said.

"In terms of the spirit of rugby, it was not normal that a player should be sent off like this in such a match.

"France seemed to be perturbed by what happened and by the fact that they had to play against 14.


"Wales found a reason to pull together while France just focused on defence.

"We can't be too happy with that but the raison d'être was to get into the final. We'll see what happens on Sunday. If France take part in a magnificent match then who will remember what happened in the semi-final, eh?"

Was he not dismayed by the negativity?

"You have to look at the context of the situation," Blanco said. "As for the All Blacks, you have to admire just how gifted they are. Look at the back three: Israel Dagg, Cory Jane and Richard Kahui, these are very special players. I'd like to see the French players do that. They are capable of doing that. But I have the feeling that this All Black team are on a different level to everyone else.

"That was certainly true in 1987. That was the best team of the last 50 years. Our final was, in fact, the semi-final. Once that was over, we barely trained prior to the final, a bit of jogging on the beach.


"This All Black side are not yet at that level and in their minds somewhere will be memories of those incomprehensible defeats the French have inflicted on them.

"France are still capable, that is for sure. In 1987, we went just to compete, to show we were there. This team have come here to win the World Cup. They may not have played very well but that is still their objective."

Blanco has been no great admirer of Marc Lièvremont, chastising him earlier in the season for not being "a smiling coach, one that should give desire to his team and not always being sad".

For now, though, Blanco still believes that improbable things are possible. And, as he showed that afternoon in Sydney long ago, he knows all about that.