Vincent Clerc is one of the most popular figures in French rugby. Greatest try-scorer in the history of the European Cup (35), second on the all-time try-scoring list for France (34), the Toulouse winger is looking forward to a long-awaited return to Stade de France, on Saturday (2.55pm) against the Ciel et Blanc
Vincent, you have just returned from an injury which kept you out of rugby and the French XV for eight months. What does it feel like after such a long break from the game?
Firstly it a huge pleasure just to be back in the Stade Toulousain team. It was a long, long break but the recovery has gone really well. Before playing in the European Cup match last week, I had two games for the ‘Espoirs’, and that for me signalled the end of the injury. I’m really rapt because in my first game back, things immediately felt right. Now I can really turn the page, and hopefully start working on my performance, to get back to where I was before.
Nevertheless, the Stade Toulousain seems to have difficulty putting its game in place. Against the Zebre last Saturday, you had virtually no chance of increasing your try-scoring record in the European Cup…
Well, we put in two great performances against Clermont and Sacarens in the European Cup. But it is true that we were far more hesitant against the Zebre. The conditions were difficult, but we struggled to string three passes together, and we failed to get the bonus point we needed. Still, we are on a winning streak and that at least is something positive. But we are still too inconsistent, and that is what we have to work on, little by little. Although the Six Nations championship and the constraints of the fixture list are not making it easy for us…
Speaking of which, Toulouse, like Racing Metro will be without their French internationals for Saturday’s game. Will this have an influence on the game?
According to my calculations, we will be without seven players involved with the French XV. And when you add in the injuries to Gregory Lamboley and Florian Fritz, it starts to add up. Its a real handicap for us, and against Racing we are going to have to get by without all those missing players.
What do you think of the way Racing is playing at the moment?
They are having trouble getting up to cruising speed. But it’s logical: they had a lot of changes in the off-season, a new coaching staff and a lot of new players. They have had some good games, and some not so good, but they are struggling to get any consistency. Today, Racing needs a win, they need to get a few quality performances under their belt, in order to meet their expectations. They have aimed high, which is normal when you look at the players they have. We all know that it takes time to achieve consistency and confidence. But the depth of talent they have in the squad, they day they achieve consistency, things will be far better.
What did you make of the Ciel et Blanc game against Clermont last Sunday?
Frankly, I thought they had a really good game, but what cost them dearly was the lack of discipline in the second half. They were down to 13 men, and against a team like Clermont, it gets pretty complicated when you are two men short. However, I know how complicated it can be when you play in a game with nothing at stake, and there are probably not many lessons to be taken from that match. In my eyes, it is completely different from playing at home in a game where you have to win. Obviously the mental approach is not the same, and we know that it is going to be far more difficult for us on Saturday. We are going back to different competition – the Top 14 – where there is very little margin for error, and Racing will undoubtedly be in a totally different state of mind.
What sort of game to you expect?
A very tight, very intense game. I don’t know yet what the weather will be like this weekend, but as far as Toulouse goes, I hope we will be able to play a bit of rugby. Clearly, we are expecting very strong opposition from Racing. You get the feeling that, little by little things are starting to gel and their performances are getting better and better. They are at home, they will have the pressure of playing at Stade de France, and they can’t afford to lose another game. This year, for all the teams it is complicated to remain in the top 6, so for both sides it will be a very tense game.
Still, a game with the Pierre de Coubertin trophy to play for. What does this trophy mean to you in terms of the spirit of the game?
Of course, it means a lot! We have always got on very well with Racing, and this trophy is a reminder to people that we are there to enjoy ourselves on the field, that it is still only a game, that it remains a passion and an amusement. Even if it is just another championship game, it’s funny to be able to hold up a Cup at the end of it. There is not a huge amount at stake on Saturday, but in symbolic terms, it’s important that this trophy is up for grabs.
On the personal level, what can we wish Vincent Clerc for his return to the Stade de France?
Simply that it will enable me to rack up some game time. That is what I need at the moment. Whether it be at Colombes, at Stade de France, or wherever, I am just happy to play, and to keep progressing after my injury. I want to get back to my best and push for selection to at the highest level. I am always delighted to play at Stade de France, it’s a magnificent stadium! I intend to make the most of it, even if I am in the visitor’s change room!
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Saturday 26th August