When Charles Ollivon first broke through on the international scene at 21, the back-rower arrived with such poise and composure that the idea of him becoming France captain down the line seemed far from premature.
Yet, just over five years later, as Fabien Galthié names him the successor to Guilhem Guirado at the head of Les Bleus, it caps one of the more unlikely rugby journeys.
After all, it was only last season that the French press were asking the question of whether he would have to call time on his playing career.
A succession of shoulder injuries culminated in what seemed like the final straw in September 2018. His troublesome left shoulder blade had gone again.
As a final throw of the dice, Ollivon went to Toulouse to meet with an orthopaedic surgeon, Yves Bellumore, now a friend.
He underwent an operation that was a resounding success, made his return for Toulon at the end of the season and forced his way from World Cup reserve to starting the quarter-final defeat to Wales.
👑 C’était le tout dernier de l’année du #XVdeFrance et selon vous, c’était aussi #LePlusBelEssai de 2019 ! Retour avec Charles Ollivon sur cette magnifique action en 1/4 de finale de la #RWC2019 contre le 🏴 Pays-de-Galles ! #NeFaisonsXV#SixNations 🎟️ https://t.co/X6T0lF7oVc pic.twitter.com/on8A5Wm2uH
— France Rugby (@FranceRugby) December 20, 2019
The reports of a possible retirement had driven Ollivon on. The 26-year-old kept them and joked with the journalists who had written the stories when he played the World Cup opener against Argentina.
He was one of France’s standout performers in Japan, a try-scorer against Wales and a driving force on and off the pitch.
Despite having just 11 caps to his name, including a lone Championship appearance off the bench against Ireland in 2017, Ollivon has been handed the responsibility of leading Les Bleus by new coach Galthié, who he previously worked with during the latter’s time at Toulon.
And for Ollivon, it is clear just how much that means to him.
He explained: “Fabien called me while I was at home. It was a strange feeling, very powerful. All of a sudden you take on more responsibility. At the same time, there is a lot of joy after all the challenges I’ve faced, this is a bonus. I’m not going to put undue pressure on myself. I want to be up to it while enjoying myself at the same time. I cannot wait to start this new adventure.
“It means a lot: France, the supporters, the public, the coaches, our families, teammates, the clubs, this is the holy grail! When we have the chance to represent our country, there is already a special emotion that stays with you forever!”
— France Rugby (@FranceRugby) January 8, 2020
Galthié has been clear about the importance of identity in this French team, introducing the coaching staff in his home town of Montgesty in the Lot.
Ollivon now plies his trade in Toulon, but first came through the ranks at Bayonne in the Basque Country and is all too aware of the role identity can play on the field.
He added: “Of course identity is important to me. I come from a region where there is a strong identity! So there is no question that when it comes the France jersey and what it represents, that means a lot to me.
“It’s unique because it is the highest level you can reach. Then, this jersey means so much. It is the whole of France, the countryside and the cities, young and not so young, supporters and coaches… Through that, the responsibility has been given to me and I want to be up to the challenge while being myself so I will give everything to the team.”
Ollivon may not have the international experience of some of his predecessors – Guirado, Thierry Dusautoir, Galthié himself.
However, few people have been through as much to receive this honour. Ollivon will not be taking it for granted.