Emile Ntamack fears over French rugby’s ‘loss of culture’

That French flair is all around us… except in France: Emile Ntamack fears over ‘loss of culture’

  • Emile Ntamack believes the French rugby side are a team lacking in identity 
  • He also thinks that France don’t give their rugby talent enough time to impress 
  •  Ntamack feels more must be done to protect the development of youngsters

‘For 10 months, we had the gilet jaunes breaking everything, blocking everything. Every Saturday you couldn’t walk the street. What changed?’ asks Emile Ntamack.

‘Nothing. It’s the same in French rugby. We know all about the wars. It’s s**t but what do you do to change it? Nothing. One or two wins here in Japan changes nothing. The problems will come back.’

Ntamack is here to watch his son Romain playing for France and despite family ties, he does not sugarcoat the state of affairs. France will book their place in the quarter-finals if they beat Tonga today but Ntamack sees a French team without identity.

Emile Ntamack believes the French team are without identity despite quarter-final bid

‘There have been so many questions about our team,’ he says. ‘Before they left, the newspapers talked about this being the first French team not to qualify from the group stage in history. Players live in the real world and hear these things.

‘Everybody was saying “Oh, you’re s**t”. Now, they beat Argentina and people talk about winning the World Cup. First, let’s get past Tonga. Nobody expects them to beat England but maybe there will be a nice surprise.’

Problems persist for France chief coach Jacques Brunel. But Ntamack says: ‘The problem is not Brunel. The coaching staff is 16 people now. Everybody says something to the player but who is the chief? Who makes the decisions? With England, Eddie Jones chooses everything.

‘Maybe sometimes he is stupid but he is the boss. With France, we don’t know exactly who makes the decisions.

‘Brunel at the moment but Fabian Galthie for the future. Who will command at the World Cup? We don’t know.’

Selection policies have been erratic. Before the Six Nations, Antoine Dupont was tipped as the new star. He was the cover boy for a matchday programme but, when the opening match came around, was not selected. Their response? They chopped his head out of the picture.

Ntamack believes that France don’t give their young rugby talent enough time to impress

‘Sometimes we are prisoners of our own culture,’ says Ntamack. ‘We don’t give talent time. I can remember when Andrew Mehrtens was coming to an end with the All Blacks and Dan Carter was coming through. Carter would play good, play bad, play good and they would stick with him.

‘It was the same when Beauden Barrett was taking over from Aaron Cruden, or Sexton and O’Gara. Not with France.

‘They picked Romain to face Argentina and everyone said, “Why change now? He is too young. Jacques Brunel is a fool”. But it proved the right decision.

‘At the moment we have the incredible players but do we have the confidence and the collective genius? No.

‘We live too much in the past with French flair and the great counter-attack. This was in the past. Now the coaches say, “In this area you kick… in this area you play”. French rugby has too many plans.

‘The coaches are telling you what you have to do in this area, after the scrum, after the line-out. Scotland, Australia, Wales, Ireland, Argentina all have some French flair. French flair is all around you… except in France.’

Ntamack also connects Mathieu Bastareaud with the deterioration of the French identity

With a heavy heart, Ntamack connects heavyweight centre Mathieu Bastareaud with the deterioration of the French identity. Bastareaud — a battering ram in midfield — was the headline omission in France’s World Cup squad.

He made his debut a decade ago, when Ntamack was part of the selection committee.

‘It’s difficult for me to talk about Mathieu because his first cap was when I was with the national team,’ says Ntamack. ‘He was a symbol of a new generation when he started but at the same time, he needs to make more effort.

‘In 2009, he started to get bigger. I said, “Mathieu, you have three months to lose four kilos… this is your challenge to stay in the French team”. Easy. He came back to the French team and was two kilos more.

‘He is a centre — a transition position between the 10 and the winger. For me, just to have power is not enough. He can survive in the Top 14, of course, but you can’t be like that in the international game.

‘He was captain of the French team. I do not want to attack the player but I will talk about the symbol. Bastareaud captain of the French team?

Ntamack feels more must be done to protect development of youngsters like Damian Penaud

‘This is your rugby now? Your philosophy? In the past, you can be a Serge Blanco, Philippe Sella, Saint Andre, Dominici, Ntamack — these are symbols. Is Bastareaud a symbol of the game you play with your kids? I don’t think so.’

As for the new foreign legion, Ntamack feels more must be done to protect development of youngsters. His son is at the heart of the next generation, alongside the likes of Dupont, Demba Bamba and Damian Penaud. This year’s World Cup may have come four years too early but Ntamack wants to see them given more chances ahead of foreign club players.

‘France is a free land and we love that but at the same time you have to protect your French identity,’ he says. ‘If foreign players play in the Top 14 then maybe the French players don’t play. Sometimes you lose your identity.

‘For me, rugby in France is too confidential… private. You don’t have enough Moroccan or Algerian guys. This is not the real face of the French. To play rugby you need a culture. There is still a lot of potential.

‘France is multicultural. Roger Bourgarel was the first black player in 1951, then Serge Blanco, myself, Jimmy Marlu, but it is not enough.

It is likely to be a battle for first place for France with two teams up for grabs in the quarters

‘Now you see Priso, you see Raka, Camara. You have a melting pot but there is more work to be done. Football proved that. Look at Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante. You need guys like that.’

Yet France have already won their most important game and now it is likely to boil down to the battle for first place; a quarter-final against Wales or Australia.

But Ntamack says: ‘Everyone knows England is the strongest team in the group. We would love to hurt their pride.

‘We know the French team is not the best in the world but we don’t care. They have nothing to lose. If you stay alive, anything can happen.’

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