BORDEAUX duo Matthieu Jalibert and Cameron Woki could line up for Bordeaux in the Top 14 on Sunday despite withdrawing from France coach Fabien Galthie’s squad for the international against Wales, which kicks off 24 hours earlier.
The pair pulled out of Galthie’s 31-player squad for ‘medical reasons’ a few days after it was announced and at the height of a row between the French rugby union and the clubs that went all the way to France’s highest administrative court.
But it now seems they could play at least some part in the match against Ronan O’Gara’s La Rochelle at Stade Marcel Deflandre on Sunday evening after they returned to training this week.
Shortly before the pair pulled out of the reckoning for Les Bleus’ first international since February, Bordeaux confirmed three cases of coronavirus, prompting the Top 14 match against Clermont to be postponed to an unspecified later date. French rugby media wasted little time speculating that that they had contracted the illness.
Neither club or country have officially said Jalibert and Woki were affected, but coach Christophe Urios told reporters at a press conference this week that the pair had been ‘in quarantine’.
“The situation is simple. They were called-up, they were sick, they were placed in quarantine. They resumed [training] a week ago, so they are available for the game.”
– Christophe Urios
According to the Sud Ouest newspaper, the strongman coach contacted Galthie to confirm he could select the players for the weekend’s derby.
“I called the France staff to ask if I could [select] them [for the game].
They told me, ‘There is no problem‘.”
– Christophe Urios
It should be no surprise that Galthie gave the green light for Jalibert and Woki to play at La Rochelle this weekend. A hard-fought agreement between France’s rugby union and the Ligue National de Rugby, which operates the professional leagues in France, has limited players to a maximum of three selections during the 2020 end-of-year internationals – which means he faces a few selection headaches in the coming weeks.
The international coach quickly brought in 24-year-old Toulon winger Gabien Villière, and Pau’s backrow-cum-lock Baptiste Pesenti, 23, as replacements, leaving France short of official options at fly-half for Saturday’s friendly against Wales.
It’s almost certain that Romain Ntamack will start at 10. But it is also telling that Toulouse’s Thomas Ramos and Montpellier’s Anthony Bouthier – polyvalent players both – have had recent Top 14 outings in that position.
France backs coach Laurent Labit, for one, reportedly sees Ramos as a 10 in hiding. That – or the future call-up of Toulon’s Louis Carbonel – would allow Ntamack to shift back to the inside centre slot he habitually inhabited before his impressive early fly-half shifts for France.
That, in turn, presents further selection headaches of the kind coaches routinely tell the press they are happy to have…
Meanwhile, the presence of one player at Marcoussis for this week’s training camp prompted a brief flurry of consternation.
Injury-hit loosehead Lucas Pointud has not played for Pau since January, and was still officially listed as ‘on sick leave’ on the Top 14 club’s website when he appeared in an image from France’s training camp at Marcoussis posted on France Rugby’s Instagram feed.
He was also in a photograph on Antoine Dupont’s Twitter feed.
The images prompted a flurry of discussion among French rugby media – until L’Equipe contacted Pau who confirmed the 32-year-old had returned to training in the beginning of October. France coaches had requested his presence at Marcoussis as a ‘training partner’, the club said.
Galthie, limited to 31 official selections this autumn, rather than the 42 he was permitted earlier this year as part of a previous agreement between the FFR and LNR, has raided the France 7s and u20 squads to bulk up his training camps. Pointud’s presence is part of that thinking.