At the dawn of this Scotland – France at Murrayfield, here is the opportunity for us to remember an inglorious moment but which is part of the history of the XV of France. In February 2018, Jacques Brunel’s Blues experienced a stormy episode in the land of Loch Ness. Between the defeat marking 330 days without a victory and the nocturnal and extra-sporting affairs which surround this Scottish trip, the story of a turbulent weekend to say the least.
The story begins in the always hostile lair of the Chardon XV: the famous Murrayfield. Because yes, this is where Jacques Brunel’s Blues meet for their second match of the 2018 6 Nations Tournament. Barely a week after being crucified by a killer drop from Jonathan Sexton on the siren (15-13 ), at the Stade de France. A cruel disillusionment both by its dramaturgy and by the loss of the two great prospects of the time (who have since confirmed rather well!), namely the scrum half Antoine Dupont and the fly half Matthieu Jalibert. From then on, Jacques Brunel’s men must bounce back and recover.
To do this, remember, the coach decided to recall an experienced player to resist the palpable pressure of the Edinburgh setting: Lionel Beauxis. Jalibert injured, it is he who will wear number 10. Absent from the radar of the XV of France for six long years, the Lyonnais of the time therefore makes a more than surprising comeback. At the end of this once again frustrating meeting, but once again lost (32-26), the returnee’s performance was mixed. Author of a decisive inside return for Teddy Thomas, he lacked accuracy and inspiration in his kicking game. “I felt good, there was a lot of rhythm in the first half and things were moving a lot. But this defeat leaves me with a taste of unfinished business” he judged at the time. The Blues therefore bow after having squandered their lead.
As in Saint-Denis, in Edinburgh the Blues were unable to keep a score in their favor (17-7 after half an hour of play). Ultimately, 330 days ago France has not won a single match. We have to go back to the 6 Nations 2017, otherwise the French went eight games without a victory. It is also until today the worst series of the Blues since 2000. A defeat which turns the Blues towards a new objective: not to be offered the wooden spoon.
Arrests on the tarmac
At this time, which may seem distant as the Blues have grown, the reality is that the French XV ranks among the second tier of world rugby. Complicated period on the field therefore, but also off it. Indeed, this stay in Great Britain will not have marked people’s minds except by the unfortunate result. It is also through extra-sporting, press and television titles, that the Rooster stands out. For the famous “Edinburgh night”. After the defeat, some players decide to go out to a pub called the Tigerlily and then continue the evening at Lulu, a Scottish night establishment.
An initiative that was not very appropriate given current performances and was criticized afterwards by the coach himself. “The constraint, when you have lost, is to have the delicacy to be a little angry, to be frustrated and to stay calm, in your corner, to evacuate all that”. If the night was short, we later discovered that it was also restless… The next morning, go to the airport for the France group, direction Orly. As takeoff is imminent, the captain asks certain French players to get off the plane. Local police order. But why ?
Iturria and the video surveillance images
These players are interviewed as witnesses by the police, in discreet premises at the airport, regarding the filing of a complaint in the morning for sexual assault. Meanwhile, the plane takes off with part of the group. A press release from the police will follow: “Following a report of a sexual assault in the center of Edinburgh during the early hours of this morning, police explored several lines of inquiry, including interviewing several potential witnesses.” […] “These investigations concluded that no crime had been committed”.
The second plane with the players (Louis Picamoles, Yacouba Camara, Rémi Lamerat, Arthur Iturria, Teddy Thomas, Félix Lambey, Anthony Belleau, Jonathan Danty) and Serge Simon, who remained with them, will arrive later. But the story does not end there. Upon his arrival at Orly, the ten journalists present observed Arthur Iturria damaged in the nose, just like Geoffrey Palis, injured in the arch. For the second, the bleeding would be due to a drinking game that went wrong. For the first, however, a fight in the streets of Edinburgh is mentioned. The Clermont player at the time immediately denies it and claims to have hit a bedside table during the night. Indeed, in the columns of Midi Olympique, Iturria explains himself, justifies himself and assures that he will provide the proof. Which he will do thanks to the video surveillance cameras which show him in the elevator in the middle of the night, devoid of any stigma.
9 players excluded
In reality, the second line says he jumped on his bed in the dark but missed his mattress. “I repeat: yes, I did something stupid, admits the player. JI came out in defeat on a night, I certainly shouldn’t have. But my matter ends there. I didn’t fight. I haven’t done anything with any girl”. The following ? It is Jacques Brunel and the French Rugby Federation which dictates it. For the match against Italy, 9 players are sanctioned. “The coach-manager of the France team has decided to exclude from this list the players who left after the defeat in Scotland. Through this inappropriate behavior, they did not respect their status as international players and the duties that resulting” specifies the communication.
Not all the “party goers” were punished, only the most night owls, including certain members of the “second plane”: Picamoles, Macalou, Lambey, Iturria, Lamerat, Belleau, Danty and finally Alexandre Lapandry, he for sporting reasons and the desire of the staff to take three hookers. The Blues will win against Italy and put an end to the black series. They will finish 4th ahead of England and Squadra Azzura. A parenthesis which had damaged the image of French rugby and its dear values. An incredible episode which was, perhaps, also the founding stone of the edifice constructed at the end of the Brunel mandate and solidified at the beginning of the Galthié mandate. Much more virtuous it goes without saying.