France enjoyed something of a renaissance in the 2020 Guinness Six Nations under new coach Fabien Galthié and new captain Charles Ollivon, and the latter believes it was a training camp in Nice and a phone-free cheese night that truly brought the squad together.
Both Galthié and Ollivon were part of the France squad at last year’s World Cup, Galthié as an assistant to Jacques Brunel, and Ollivon starting in the back row.
However their new-found status in 2020 allowed Les Bleus to start afresh, and with three wins from four in the Guinness Six Nations, the new regime enjoyed a fine start.
It all began on the French Riviera in Nice in January and a training camp where the squad really started to gel in the build-up to an opening success against World Cup finalists England in Round One.
In an interview with AFP, Ollivon explained: “We have to be humble and remember where we started from in that first training camp in Nice. We managed to achieve quite a lot on the sporting side, but away from that too. We created a squad that was very important for the work we had to do during the Championship.
“Quite quickly we realised that something was building. In Nice we created strong links: it no longer felt like a national team, it was a group of friends, as if we were in the same club together. There was a certain osmosis which allowed us to produce some great performances. Without that, I don’t know if we would have achieved what we did.”
Asked about an evening where the squad enjoyed a raclette in a chalet and mobile phones were banned, Ollivon added: “It’s good to talk about that evening. It was an important moment: there are only good memories from that evening. Those are the sorts of moments that allow you to change your focus to a good week of training and produce a good game against England.”
France did just that, running out 24-17 winners as Ollivon scored two tries at the Stade de France, and they followed it up with wins at home to Italy and then away in Wales, a first Championship success in Cardiff for a decade.
The winning streak came to an end in Scotland but those two away trips were marked by huge French support, much to Ollivon’s delight.
He added: “It was incredible: in Cardiff we felt like we were in France, in a stadium which we did not know but where there were only French people. That was one of the most powerful moments. In Scotland, I’ve never seen that: I don’t even know how long we took from the entrance to the car park, there were so many people going back a long way. It was incredible, the atmosphere around the stadium and inside. That pushed us, it really helped.”
Ollivon was initially named as captain for the Guinness Six Nations, but last month Galthié said there was no reason to change his status.
And for Ollivon, the desire to continue is strong.
He added: “We’re talking about the France team. It’s the highest level for a rugby player and brings millions of French people together. Of course I want to continue as part of this team. It’s obvious for me.”