That was the French rugby weekend that was: RWC injury ends Sansus’ career; Galthie’s selection headache; & why Brive removed their head coach

Laure Sansus takes on a temporary new role as Les Bleues’ World Cup cheerleader after a knee injury against England ends her career earlier than France would have hoped; the selection questions Fabien Galthie faces ahead of the Autumn Nations series; what’s happened to Cameron Woki since his Racing switch; Brive’s new ambition left them with no choice but to relieve Jeremy Davidson of his duties; the promise behind Fiji 7s star’s mixed Top 14 opener

Cruel for Sansus

France scrum-half Laure Sansus announced earlier this year that she planned to retire after the World Cup in New Zealand.

The end, it turns out, has come earlier than she or France would have wanted. She was injured early in the 13-7 loss against England on Saturday, and scans confirmed that she has ruptured an ACL, the FFR said on Monday.

Her World Cup, then, is over. As is the playing career of one of France’s brightest rugby lights.

Sansus – voted France’s women’s player of the year recently – said in a statement issued by the FFR: “You never choose your exit and my situation is a perfect example. Of course, I would have preferred to end my career differently. 

“Even if the World Cup ended for me on Saturday, it goes on for the French group. If I can’t fight on the field with my friends, I will show the same determination by cheering for them in the stands. I will be their number one fan! I hope the girls finish the adventure with a smile on the evening of November 12.”

France have called up Blagnac scrum-half Marie Dupouy as cover, but Pauline Bourdon is expected to wear the nine shirt for France in their final pool phase match against Fiji at the weekend.

Galthie’s selection questions

France fullback Melvyn Jaminet was helped off the pitch at Stade Amedee Domenech just 15 minutes into Toulouse’s 45-7 bonus-point, on-the-road win over Brive on Saturday.

An MRI scan on Sunday revealed ligament damage, meaning he will be out for six weeks, missing France’s November internationals.

Galthie was already looking for cover on the wing with Gabin Villiere injured, at loosehead with Cyril Baille out, on the flanks, with Francois Cros unavailable. He needs a centre – Arthur Vincent is unavailable and Virimi Vakatawa retired – and possibly fly-half as Romain Ntamack has yet to return from his ankle injury, though he probably will feature.

He, at least, has plenty of options. Yoan Tanga has impressed in La Rochelle’s backrow; Anthony Jelonch looks in good nick at Toulouse; Arthur Iturria may be in line for a recall after a thoroughly impressive run at Clermont; a revitalised Jordan Joseph may be in line for a call. 

Jonathan Danty, Yoram Moefana and Pierre-Louis Barassi are available to play alongside Gael Fickou in midfield; Alivereti Raka, Remy Baget can cover the wing, assuming Moefana – who played out wide in the Six Nations – isn’t drafted in there; Matthieu Jalibert looks to be returning to something approaching form for Bordeaux, while both Leo Berdeu and Louis Carbonel raised their hands for selection again this weekend; Thomas Ramos would do a job at 10, but could also slot in at 15, as could Romain Buros and Brice Dulin. Let’s not ignore forgotten player Anthony Bouthier, either. 

The Woki Conundrum

Cameron Woki is, undoubtedly, one of the best players that France coach Fabien Galthie has at his disposal. There’s no need to go into his CV for Bordeaux and France – it’s thoroughly impressive. 

But, following his earlier-than-scheduled switch from Bordeaux to Racing 92, something’s not quite right. 

Racing’s stuttering start – they’re 11th in the table, with 13 points from their first seven matches – doesn’t help frame opinion. But Woki looks to be finding it more difficult than perhaps he expected to adapt to the Racing style.

For a player whose entire game rests on his energy, speed and impact, he seems lethargic and limp. His support play is off, his link work between backs and forwards – a Woki cornerstone – is suffering.

There’s little doubt, even with his current dip in form, Woki will be named in Galthie’s first squad for France’s November internationals. Maybe a spell at Marcoussis is what he needs to remind himself just how astonishingly good he can be.

Davidson down

Brive boss Jeremy Davidson was ‘temporarily relieved of his duties’ on Saturday night, hours after watching his side lose 45-7 at home to Toulouse – their fifth defeat in seven matches.

Losing to Toulouse is common in the Top 14. Of the sides to have faced Ugo Mola’s machine this season – Bordeaux, Toulon, Racing 92, Montpellier, Clermont, Brive and Pau – only the last one, ironically 13th in the league, has so far dared to inflict defeat on the rouge-et-noir.

And it’s clear from his post-match comments that Davidson expected to be in charge for next Saturday’s trip to Stade Francais. He even talked about his expectations when the register of injured players on Brive’s books gets shorter.

But then came the three-sentence statement out of Brive, code that – pending French employment law formalities – the former Ireland international was as good as out.

Arnaud Mela will be interim head coach, and will work with  Jean-Baptiste Péjoine, Didier Faugeron, and Goderdzi Shvelidze to – according to a second brief press release issued on Monday – “rapidly improve sporting results. 

“The entire club is determined to meet this challenge.”

Davidson has done a decent job at Brive, since joining as head coach from Bordeaux in 2018. In his first season in charge, he took the 1997 European champions back into the Top 14, and then successfully kept them there, despite one of the lowest overall budgets in the league.

The bare stats of 32 wins, 2 draws and 50 losses doesn’t really do Davidson’s Brive period justice, given the constraints he was working under. And the very time-specific figures quoted in L’Equipe about his final matches, when Brive conceded 99 points and scored zero between the 58th minute of their 25-22 win over Bayonne in week five and the 78th minute of their loss against Toulouse in week seven is a brutal descriptor of Davidson’s end days at Amedee Domenech.

But the club has become a different animal recently. A large financial investment from tech investment fund boss Ian Osborne has Brive dreaming of a future in which Top 14 survival is no longer the name of the game, but challenging for honours again is.

There have, too, been reports of internal divisions, with some players said to be unwilling to sign new deals if Davidson stayed, according to La Montagne – which also said his survival depended on a less negative result against Toulouse.

Club chairman Simon Gillham has repeatedly spoken of his pride that the 148th biggest town in France – population 46,000, give or take, – has one of the 14 best teams. With this new investment, however, the intention is to turn Brive into Castres – a relatively small town with a big team.

Already, Gillham has spoken about the club’s new ability to target a ‘higher level’ of potential recruit. Glasgow and Scotland lock Richie Gray – who would go a long way to solving the French club’s current shortfall in the second row – has already been mentioned in dispatches. 

It’s not impossible to assume further bigger-than-expected players will be linked to the club in the weeks and months to come. But first, Brive need to find Davidson’s successor. Given their rediscovered ambitions, it may be another bigger-than-expected name. 

Future Bayonne star a work in progress

Fiji Sevens World Cup winner Kaminieli Rasaku’s Top 14 debut for Bayonne at Castres’ Stade Pierre Fabre was – it’s safe to say – a mixed affair.

He scored a try for the Basque side late in the first 40 that ensured they went in level at halftime against a side that has not lost a domestic match at home since December 2020.

But he then was yellow carded for a deliberate knock-on early in the second half, with the referee doubly penalising the visitors by awarding a penalty try, as Castres extended their unbeaten run to 25 matches with a 39-22 result.

Head coach Grégory Patat admitted Castres away was a tough baptism for a player he’s certain will become a cult hero at the club. “Kems was in trouble under high balls and there was a misunderstanding on a restart where he was penalised,” he said. “We know where he is…”

And Castres’ David Darricarrere is in no doubt about Rasaku’s qualities. “He’ll learn. It is not easy to attack a match of this level. He is a player who is new to fifteen-a-side rugby, who is starting out in this championship but who has enormous qualities.”

Watch out, Rasaku’s going to be a star.

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