The first weekend of the 2014 Six Nations championship proved to be a Grand Slam for players from Racing. In Dublin on Sunday, scoring 13 points from the boot, Jonny Sexton played a key role in Ireland’s victory over Scotland (28-6), while in Cardiff on Saturday, Jamie Roberts, Mike Phillips, and Dan Lydiate were all decisive in the Welsh success against Italy (23-15). While at the Stade de France on Saturday evening our three Ciel et Blanc players all participated in les Bleus’ heart-stopping win (26-24) against England.
With 14 tackles to his name, although replaced at half-time, flanker Bernard Le Roux was the game’s top tackler. With five points from the boot, scrumhalf Maxime Machenaud, who came on in the 57th minute, sealed the victory thanks to a penalty goal (70th) and a conversion (78th).
But it was the Ciel et Blanc skipper who stole the show, injecting pace from the moment he came on in the 43rd minute, illuminating the end of the match with a display of technique worthy of a centre three-quarter. For, less than three minutes from full time, in the stunning French counter-attack which lasted 107 seconds, it was the Racing hooker who, coming into the attacking line, broke through and drew two defenders in copy-book style before delivering the final pass to Gaël Fickou for the winning try.
Dimitri Szarzewski takes a look back at this decisive moment in les Bleus’ historic victory over England.
Dimitri, by injecting speed into the game, you played a critical role in the win on Saturday. Did you have specific instructions to do so when you came on?
Of course, and that is the role of replacements. We all know that nowadays, rugby is a 23-man game, and our role is to bring a bit more mobility, a bit of punch, and try to wake everybody up. We could have folded after the try by Burrell early in the second half. But in spite of everything, we hung on, we kept on trying to play rugby, taking initiatives, throwing the ball around, and in the end it paid off.
You nevertheless came on at a time when things were not looking too good for the French XV…
That’s right, the English were starting to get on top, and they were going from strength to strength. We were on the back foot far too much, and on defence our line-speed wasn’t good enough. But the great thing was that the team showed huge character, to come back into the game and to grab the win. We were hungry for the win, and like all the others who came on as replacements, I was really keen to turn the game around. When you are playing the Crunch, on your home turf, you have no right to fail. I said it to the guys in the change-room: for some of us, particularly the guys who are in their thirties, this was possibly their last game against England in France. And against this English team, we just wanted to walk away with happy memories.
You played a key role in Fickou’s try. Can you talk us through it?
We had seen in our video sessions that switching direction to the blind side was something that could pay off. In this action, it’s true that we went wide, and we all made the effort to get ourselves into position. I think it was Brice (Dulin) who took the ball, and he decided to open up on the outside. I was in the line, and he trusted me, because I know more than one three-quarter who, seeing me on the outside, would have cut back on the inside! (Laughs). But no, he took the risk. We dared to throw the ball around. Then Gaël called me on the outside, and I did my best to try and draw the second-last defender…
But before that, you accelerated, and made about 30 metres up-field, didn’t you?
No, I think I made about 10 metres, that’s all. (ed : in reality, more like 20 metres). But I could immediately tell that a try was on. I saw there was a forward in the defensive line, but I thanks to the pass from Brice, I beat him on the outside. I was really able to accelerate into the pass, that’s what enabled be to get through the first line of defence. Then I saw the outside centre, or the winger, I can’t remember which, and I tried to straighten my angle to draw him in, I passed the ball to Gaël and he did the rest.
In fact you drew two tacklers before passing to Fickou…
Really? I wasn’t aware of that. It was all happening so fast! (Laughs)
When he scored, the crowd at Stade de France literally exploded. Did you feel that on the field of play?
Yes we did, and it’s true it was like deliverance. Especially being able to turn a game around like that! The English were five points ahead, and starting to get on top. We could feel their arrogance, and their complacency. You could see it in their eyes: for them the game was all over. But we showed huge character. To come back into the game like that, two minutes from the end, is really extraordinary. It’s a huge pleasure to beat the English like that. It wasn’t all perfect, but right up until the end we could feel the crowd behind us, and that is extremely satisfying.
In short, an excellent start to the Six Nations Championship, especially after the wooden spoon last year?
It was crucial for us to get off to a good start in the competition, and there is nothing like a good win to build up our confidence. So this week we will see a bit more composure at training, and we will be able to free ourselves up a bit. There is not point in getting carried away, it’s just one win! As we saw, if was difficult, but we are going to have to keep the positives and try and get rid of the negatives. But the win is there. And that is the main thing!
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