By David Barnes
French rugby boss Bernard Laporte has glimpsed a golden future for his country. Not one, as you can imagine, that concerns many of his internationals being routinely hammered in New Zealand.
They concluded their tour last weekend with a predictable third defeat in a row. This time by 49-14.
No, what has inspired Laporte to talk of French optimism lay in the triumph of their Under-20 generation who won the world title at that level by beating England in the final.
He forecast that a good number of that squad would be playing for the senior team at the 2023 World Cup hosted by France.
And that at least three of them would have an excellent chance of breaking through at that level even sooner in Japan next year.
He said: “With this group, we have the main candidates for 2023. They will all be between 24 and 25. We may yet see some in 2019. They have a season before the World Cup in Japan.
“If they keep progressing and getting game time with their clubs, they will be knocking on the door. They are very surely the future of the France team.”
Laporte believes that his decision to close the doors of the Pole Espoirs – a residential Parisian academy designed 15 years ago as a finishing school for players – will usher in even more gifted youngsters.
And, to support his view that players would be better off training with their clubs rather than cloistered in a national academy, he spoke of Jonny Wilkinson and 19-year-old Toulon fly-half Louis Carbonel.
Laporte said: “I am convinced that the closure of that academy, which was an aberration for me, has allowed certain players to blossom by accumulating game time with their clubs.
“I am also convinced that, if we had continued to shut them away, their club coaches would not have placed their confidence in them.
“I knew about this problem during my time at Toulon. Three years ago, I took Louis Carbonel for pre-season training at altitude. He worked on his kicking game like mad with Jonny Wilkinson.”
Carbonel later left Toulon for the national academy. Coaches and Laporte did not select him from that point.
He explained: “It was a waste of time. Now being available all the time, the young ones are in the minds of their coaches, who put them on the field.”
Carbonel has become one of those precocious kids who will dispute a World Cup spot with fellow fly-halves Romain N’Tamack, of Toulouse, and Mathieu Jalibert, already capped but currently injured, of Bordeaux-Begles.
There are others, too, who beat England 33-25 in Beziers last weekend. Bordeaux flanker Cameron Woki who scored the opening try. And Agen full-back Clement Laporte, instrumental last season in keeping his team in the Top 14.
Also explosive tight-head prop Demba Bamba, who might be selected more often with his club Brive now in Division Two. He was man of the match against England.
Most promising of all, perhaps, is flanker Jordan Joseph, elected the tournament’s Best Player at the age of just 17. Developed by Parisian club Massy, he recently signed a three-year contract with Racing.
Laporte said: “From time to time, we find a prodigy. I do not want to glorify him too soon, but he seems to be exceptional. He has the talent and the attitude to become a very great player.
“From now on, all of these players will be in the professional world full-time and we will continue to follow them in tandem with their respective employers.
“Their world championship title will help them have the credit and respect from their team-mates. I repeat, there is no doubt they are the future of France and the next generation of Under 20s are showing just as much promise.”
France did have the team with the most first team experience and
Carbonel, with just two starts for Toulon, seemed to aim a cheeky swipe at Boudjellal, his president, when saying: “We wanted to prove we can play in the Top 14, that we won’t let anyone down and that there is no point in looking for young Australians, South Africans or New Zealanders to take our places. We beat them all.”
Like other top clubs, Toulon look to get round the rules limiting Top 14 places for those not apprenticed in France by importing them very young from abroad.
If Carbonel finds this initiative too unfair, he could find employment with Montpellier, who are trying to sign him.
Boudjellal prefers the ironic response: “What message would we send to Louis Carbonel if we signed a proven No.10? And Francois Trinh-Duc should be back within three months. Perhaps one day, we’ll play Julian Savea (the Kiwi winger just signed) at fly-half.
“We have a fine generation of young players on whom we will rely, but it is clear we shall continue to look after them in order to remain competitive.”
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