Ollivon: The symbol for France’s new generation

The Guinness Six Nations is always a time of new beginnings.

The Guinness Six Nations is always a time of new beginnings.

New coaches, new captains and new caps.

For France skipper Charles Ollivon, the opening weekend was not only the first time he had led his country, it was also the first time he had started a match in the Championship.

The Toulon No.8, who made his Test debut back in 2014, had seen his career stalled by injuries, with his sole previous appearance in the Championship coming off the bench in Ireland in 2017.

So while Fabien Galthié’s decision to hand him the captaincy in this new era for French rugby made a lot of sense on a human level, it also represented quite a risk.

The early returns have been sensational. Two tries and a win over an England team coming into the Guinness Six Nations off the back of a World Cup success.

Ollivon demonstrated his ability to read play and serve as a linkman between forwards and backs to help his team to a memorable 24-17 success.

And if anyone was wondering who the new man at the helm was for France, their questions were emphatically answered.

Still only 26, Ollivon was not necessarily the obvious choice to lead France. After all, he had just 11 caps to his name before Sunday and as recently as a year ago, there were questions over whether a persistent shoulder injury might cut his career short.

But having recovered from that troublesome issue, Ollivon made a dramatic return to the international set-up, going from World Cup reserve to first choice in a very competitive back row, and now skipper.

When asked to describe his approach, Ollivon often spoke of being true to himself. He knows he has taken on greater responsibility, both within the team and French rugby as a whole.

And the response of his teammates gives you a good idea of the way he leads.

Back-row colleague François Cros, who won his third cap alongside Ollivon in Paris, said: “He’s a great guy. It’s no coincidence he is captain. He brings people together, he keeps things very simple. It is a role that suits him.”

Baptiste Serin, his teammate at Toulon who was on the bench on Sunday, adds: “He doesn’t worry about too much, he takes things as they come and rarely doubts himself.”

The man himself believes in a direct approach. When things need to be said, he will have no hesitation, even if he is not one to scream and shout.

“I want to be myself, that is the only thing that will work. Otherwise the players can tell,” he explained.

That approach was evident again on Sunday after one of the most promising French performances of the last decade.

Ollivon could easily have got carried away with two tries in his first game in charge, but instead chose to focus on the team aspect, and particularly the importance of having fun out there.

That ability to take a step back likely comes from the amount of time he has spent on the sidelines, wondering whether this opportunity would ever come around.

Now that he has, he intends to make the most of it.

In a squad full of youth and exuberance, if not experience, Ollivon appears to be the perfect captain.

At 26, and nearly two metres, he has the command and respect of his teammates, but he is also new enough that he does not feel like a holdover from the previous generation.

In a France team that is desperate to create a new identity, Ollivon is a symbol of the next generation.