Post-match reward, disinhibitor, team-building tool … Alcohol plays a leading role in rugby, to the point of being integrated into the team management mode. Is it reasonable at the time of professionalism king?
“Rugby is not played in two, but in three stages: before, fervor, during, bravery, after, fraternity.” The words of the famous rugby player René Crabos may have been uttered in the nineteenth century, they are still relevant at the Rugby World Cup 2019 which sees England and South Africa oppose finally. Except that since Rennes Crabos, rugby players have become professional, and that the practice of a high-level sport goes bad with the famous “third half” watered by a good fifteen pints, as this was the case in the Australian championship in the 1990s. How to reconcile the tradition and the requirement of the high level? A puzzle for coaches.
It's almost become a ritual. At each World Cup (it's discussed for this one), the team of France smashes its first round, and faced with the doubts of the press, the public, and within the group, the players are found between four-eyes to lock a few pints and break the ice. In the literal sense of the term, as in 2007 where the hooker Dimitri Szarzewski “opened the arcade smashing an ice cube on my counter”, says the boss of Bar Thyme nearby Marcoussis, the base camp of the team of France, in the book Secret stories of the Blues at Rugby World Cup. The coach Bernard Laporte had even decided a curfew, he will close his eyes (literally and figuratively) while his players were doing the wall …
In 2011, it is the coach Marc Lievremont who tries himself to provoke an electroshock by bringing some packs of beer with him during an exchange with his players after a shameful defeat against Tonga. In vain. “I would have very sincerely wanted that we meet around a drink, that we speak, that we exchange, that we drink, that we say that the adventure is beautiful and even there, I was disappointed because the group was scattered “, sighs the coach. It's the next day, after a reception at the French Embassy in New Zealand – which ended in the cellar, near vintage wines – that the players decide to do their own thing around whiskey and gin: “The coaches understood that we wanted to be alonesays Pascal Papé. Up there, we realized that our World Cup went into a spin, that it was time to react, to be worthy of this jersey.
To believe that in France, there is only management by alcohol that works. “It's a bit like grandma's recipes handed down from generation to generation, explains to franceinfo Emmanuel Augey, director of Care Sport, a firm specializing in addictions. With the difference that everything is up one level. One player told me that he stopped drinking because he was trying to put himself in the same position as when he was on the field. “ And as the players are, from the rear pillar, built like ice cabinets and that the effective play time has doubled in twenty years, it leaves pensive about the cooked they can inflict themselves.
“It's a 'downhill ritual' specific to combat sports”Emmanuel Augey continues, evoking the triptych masculinity, virility and alcohol. Take ice hockey. Theo Fleury, the Canadian player, tells in his autobiography rightly entitled Playing with fire : “After every game, we went out, and we got really bad, every time, the whole team, there was a bar called the Green Parrot in front of the ice rink. ..) I often showed up in the morning in training, completely ravaged, I was not even ironed at home. “
A validated club operation, where it is not uncommon for coaches to encourage players to empty the alcohol section of a service station back from a trip, when they do not take them to the door. a nightclub. Read our portrait of Fabien Galthié. At the international level, the approach may be the same. Including in the best nation in the world, the All Blacks: after his first test-match in 1997, the pillar Anton Oliver remembers in his book having been “strongly encouraged” to stick a “pistachio”.
The ancients reasoned thus: 'We will show young people what it is to be an All Black'.in the book “Anton Oliver Inside”
Coach John Mitchell was known to encourage hop-based team-building. He may declare publicly “if someone wants an orange juice, I think it would not be a problem”that's not how it's going. What starts to tick in high places. “I can not understand why we are investing tens of thousands of dollars to prepare athletes, and then we let them sabotage this work”, choked Andrew Martin, the team manager. In response, he will be thanked in 2002, for differences of views with the coach.
Everything changed in 2004, when the All Blacks drowned a defeat in alcohol, after a parody of judgment where each player is sentenced, for fanciful reasons, to swallow the maximum amount of alcohol as quickly as possible. The Springboks, who live in the same hotel, end up picking up their dead drunk opponents in the bushes of the hotel park and putting them in a sideways safety position, recounts journalist James Kerr in his book Secrets of the All Blacks.
Steve Hansen, the assistant coach, arrives like Graham Henry from Wales and is outraged by practices he thought were over: “I'm surprised we have not changed since time.” The leader of the ethyl operetta court, Justin Marshall, is dismissed after a memorable Henry's brace winding. “The team had become dysfunctional”explains the breeder in his book Final Word. “Looking back, he was right,” will recognize the prosecutor one evening.
It is especially under the influence of mental trainer Gilbert Enoka that the All Blacks redefine their relationship to alcohol. In his view, it should no longer be perceived as a reward after a match won. Urine tests are set up forty-eight hours before each match to determine who is the most fit to play – and in the process identify who drank the glass too much. Players like Zac Guilford, Cory Jane or Israel Dagg have seen their international career stop after the glass too many. Guilford, emblematic case of the creeping alcoholism of the oval balloon, still talked about him for losing his license and being eliminated from a reality show. A zero tolerance that pays on the ground. Between the chaotic period 1996-2003 and the dry era, since 2004, the victory rate has increased from 70 to 90%.
In the northern hemisphere, awareness is more sporadic. We often forget that the English coach Clive Woodward had set up a drinking ban (drink ban in VF) for one year, in 2003, preparation and World Cup included. With the key a world title, the only one ever won by the England team. For Martin Johnson, then captain of the team, “It played a big role in the success that year”. Eight years later at the World Cup in New Zealand, the same Johnson, now coach, leash his players free to slummer. Result: a shameful elimination from the quarter-finals, a player engaged to a member of the royal family who is pelting a woman in a bar, players who are trying to throw dwarves and another who jumps from a running ferry to finish the swim.
The World Cup in mineral water is becoming more and more followers: take Wales in 2011. The coach Warren Gatland names Sam Warburton captain, a follower of orange juice in the evening, and excludes in the same time the star Gavin Henson, the list also provided to the sports section that pages of facts for drunken fights. Warburton the water drinker ensures in front of the press that bacchanals belong to the past: “When the tournament is over, they will be able to enjoy a well-deserved beer after five months of dieting.” It must be said that the preparation Welsh (based on cryotherapy in Poland) is so hard that players fall asleep in front of the TV at 9 pm.
It was stupid to go out after every game. When you step back, what was the point of working so hard to get into the chicken phases?
If some players get midnight permission – “only on match nights”, says Warren Gatland – and the right to lock a pint or two – “At the hotel bar after 1am” – Night outings are much more controlled than in the past. And if in the semi-final against France, the same Sam Warburton had not received a premature red card, the enthusiastic XV Leek probably would have reached the final, getting the best result in its history.
If the trend is to empower players, we should not forget that the example comes from above, first. Take the supervision of the Samoa team, which transformed the 2011 World Cup into “giant holiday camp“as the post-fiasco inquiry commissioned by the Samoan Prime Minister after the debacle tells. The manager, Tuala Mathew Vaea, did not really lead by example: “He went out to booze every night.” He will be sanctioned a fine of one hundred pigs for his bad behavior.