“What memories do you have of this final?
It was my first final at the Stade de France, even though I had already played there with the France team, it was a big event. There was pride in bringing this club back to the final seven years after 2011, we had had a great season so we had another status at that time. And it is a huge disappointment. We left very disappointed.
From the start of the match, like penalties missed by Ruan Pienaar, do you feel that something is wrong?
Given the score (29-13), on the match, there is nothing to say… We simply missed it. Also because Castres had a great match and knew how to outsmart us. It’s the ”beauty” of a final, knowing how to be there on D-Day to be champion and that’s what Castres did that day.
“The more the match progressed, the more we fell apart. When you feel something slipping away, you put a lot of pressure on yourself and you end up playing backwards…”
You finish first in the regular season, you crush Lyon in half, there was a kind of overconfidence?
No, I don’t remember that… We were placed as ultra-favorites but we stayed focused on us, to try to repeat the performance of the semi-final which, for once, was really good. Unfortunately, we missed out on the final. The more the match progressed, the more we fell apart. We could see that the match was slipping away from us, we were all trying to do well but in cleaver matches like that, when you feel something slipping away, you put a lot of pressure on yourself and you end up playing backwards…
During the season, despite your dominance in the standings, had you already had this kind of match?
There had been a few away matches during the season where we missed out. It was a bit the same thing on this final. At the same time, on a final, everything is different. Everything is reset and you have to manage not to take into account what happened before. It’s easier said than done. When you don’t have a final experience, and that was the case for the majority of the team casually, it counts. I remember that I had a different pressure, you enter this stadium, it’s impressive. I had played there with the France team but it’s hardly the same stadium, it’s summer, there are all these supporters, it’s a club match, the red carpet…
“I had played with the France team at the Stade de France, but it’s almost not the same stadium. It’s summer, there are all these supporters, it’s a club match, the red carpet…”
You have a very complicated start to the season behind. Did you have trouble getting back behind?
The following year is often complicated for the champion, so imagine for the finalist. We had a lot of trouble, we had taken a big blow because we had big ambitions. We wanted it more than anything and we missed this last step after a very long season and a lot of effort. We had to digest it, it was very hard. We chained a few defeats, including Castres entry home, and it puts us in the hard. It had taken us six months to raise our heads.
Did this defeat also mark a turning point in club policy, the beginning of the end of the “South African” era?
I haven’t seen it like that. A lot has happened since, there have been several lifetimes almost since 2018 (laughs). And the Covid with all that! It was a phase in the club… I am more marked by the fact that we had had a great season, one of the best in the history of this club – record points, record wins – and that , I do not forget it. With hindsight, we were ”only” vice-champions and it remains a chance to play a final in the end. I hope we will go to the end this year.
In the wake of the final, you went on tour in New Zealand with the France team…
And yes, on Monday (the final was played on a Saturday). I was with Benjamin Fall and we had found Mathieu Babillot (the Castrais) on the plane. It was weird, but Mathieu is a very good guy. We congratulated him, we imagined his joy at having won and he respected our pain, let’s say.
And you also make very good matches there…
Yes, yes, it was an incredible year for me on a personal level. I had a great season, played well in New Zealand, it was just missing this title in fact.
This final, it remains the biggest regret of your career so far?
Yes, because we don’t really experience those kinds of moments. I don’t like the word regret in fact, what happened happened but of course it would have been something else in my life if we had won. It will remain a pain, a suffering, a failure. »