At the Stade de France,
It is well after midnight, in the bowels of the Dionysian enclosure. Well after the end of this Top 14 final won by Montpellier (29-10), Hérault winners and Castres losers arrive, often with a beer in hand, in the mixed zone. Guilhem Guirado, on the other hand, carries around with a magnum of champagne. A deserved luxury. At 36, the Hérault hooker ended his career in apotheosis, with a second title of champion of France after that gleaned with the club of his native Catalonia, Perpignan, in 2009. The first in the history of the MHR, too.
Even his early exit on concussion protocol from the 27th minute, after a dangerous tackle from CO captain Mathieu Babillot, did not tarnish his happiness. The former captain of the XV of France depressed era (2016-2019) this time displays the mine of a happy man. And he takes the opportunity to wring the neck of an urban legend: no, he never spoke of “encouraging defeat” when he had to comment on yet another crack of the Blues.
Already, how are you after this outing on concussion protocol?
Very very good. Unfortunately, according to the doctor, I did not respond favorably to the test. During a concussion protocol, you have 10 words to remember and repeat. I only managed to remember six. You can imagine that with the challenge of the match, the pressure, I was not very focused on that. The images showed that on the percussion, my arm goes out and wanders. No risk was taken. I actually complained mostly about the throat, although I don’t think it was on purpose.
The most important thing is these 10 or 15 minutes of madness while some so-called specialists said that we did not know how to play rugby, that the final would not be attractive. We scored three tries in 10 minutes, I don’t even know if it’s ever happened in the Top 14 final.
As other Montpellier residents have also suggested, the leitmotif before this final was therefore “us against the whole world”. It’s as old as the world this lever of motivation, right?
It’s not that at all. We were disparaged and not favorites in the two matches (the half and the final). But I knew the strength of the group and knew what we were capable of. I have nothing against the press, not at all. But some may not have believed in us because they looked badly at the group and the players who make it up. What I liked is that the leaders took matters into their own hands and that the staff did a very good job during the three weeks that we have just spent. For “Fufu” (Fulgence Ouedraogo, out of the group for these final stages) and me, who are stopping our careers, even more than for the others, it’s quite exceptional.
To finish on this title, with Philippe Saint-André to guide you, after the difficulties that you both experienced in the French team, is also a beautiful symbol…
Yes, but we are not revengeful. We are no longer in the France team, the story is different. We have known the difficult years but it has helped us to question ourselves. When I came back in November to watch the Les Bleus game against New Zealand (40-25), I felt it would be fabulous to finish my career here. I didn’t want to say it too loud and clear because I’m too cautious, I didn’t want to get carried away. Today was very strong. My family and friends came to support me. My son had never had the chance to see me play at the Stade de France, unlike my daughter. He will keep a beautiful memory.
Looking back, how do you view your long career?
That I’m getting old, that I have to leave room. No, I’m proud. Perhaps the only regret is losing two league finals with Toulon (in 2016 and 2017), but that made me stronger to come back. I can’t blame the RCT because they offered me the European Cup (in 2015). Above all, I was very moved and very touched by Mr. Macron’s words before the match. They were strong and gave me a lot of strength. Especially since behind, there was the president of the Federation and my former coach in Toulon (Bernard Laporte). It touched me and made me want to get into this final even more. It’s the apotheosis, it’s huge.
Was the message from the President of the Republic very personal?
It was targeted. I don’t know what he said to the other players, but I felt he was sincere. I saw him again at the end of the match and thanked him (Emmanuel Macron “especially thanked” Guirado for the “fights” carried out during the “difficult years” of the XV of France).
It is also the first title of Mohed Altrad, who has led the MHR since 2011. Which president is he?
He is quite discreet, we see him especially during matches. He has a lot to deal with. He saw through us something that he knew very little about in business. He broke his teeth for quite a few years and to triumph tonight is something strong for him and his family. We also think of all the veterans who created this club and gave everything to be able to bring it back to the top flight in 2003. But also the volunteers, the leaders and the Montpellier residents who will be waiting for us this Sunday, I hope.
What is your program now?
Two months of celebration! I don’t have a recovery in August, you can imagine it’s going to be a great summer.
And after ?
I converted to the world of insurance, with AXA in Perpignan. It’s time to leave something beautiful to the young people of Montpellier to keep the club at the top.
Are you going to cut with rugby?
It would be better. The training, we will see later. Maybe lead young people… I’ve had my head in rugby for 20 years, every weekend. Going on a weekend with the family can be quite a lot and above all it will be something new.