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La légende de Lucien Mias vue par les sudafs

Publié le 26 juillet 2008 par Jmoritz

Un grand moment de l'histoire du XV de France, la tournée en Afrique du Sud de 1958, la France qui devait se faire croquer par les monstres Sud Africains... Une équipe est née, Lucien Mias à sa tête :

1958 remembered

There are great events which have changed the course of history - Caesar crossing the Rubicon, the Battle of Lepanto, the discovery of penicillin and the microchip - that sort of things. World Rugby, too, has had its great events that changed the game. Going back thousands of years there was the first homo sapiens to become homo ludens, the man/men who started people playing, probably playing at hunting instead of actually hunting. Then came those who started using a ball. Bringing the game to the schools in the 19th century had a profound effect, breaking away from soccer in 1871, the establishment of the International Rugby board - all of those were huge events. So was the French tour of 1958. It was the year that converted France from a country which played rugby to a country of rugby champions, established as an international power and a land of rugby thinkers. It happened in July and August of 1958.
That year France became the first country from the North to head for South Africa. Before that tours from the north to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa had been composite sides, latterly called the Lions. For the French it was a huge adventure - out of Europe into the African unknown. They even had team blazers and ties for the first time. They also had great leaders.
The captain of the team was Michel Celaya, an outstanding forward from Biarritz who played 50 times for France. But he was injured early in the tour and Lucien Mias stepped up to lead the team, and he was an outstanding leader. The other leader was the manager, Serge Saulnier.
Saulnier was a successful business man of great energy and determination. He was explosive and got his way.
The side flew south and developed engine trouble which necessitated a landing at Kano in Nigeria where they stayed for two days. On the Tuesday before their first match (in Salisbury on the Saturday) Saulnier sent a telegram to the SA Rugby Board: "Si couchons pas demain soir dans un lit à Salisbury, jouons pas samedi." (If we are not sleeping in a bed in Salisbury tomorrow night, we will not play on Saturday." They slept in Salisbury (now Harare) on Wednesday night.
Any problems he had with the Board produced and explosive: "We go 'ome tomorrow." One of those threats was when the Board refused to play for the wine the players drank. In those days players paid for their own drinks, at a time when far less wine was drank in South Africa when beer and brandy ruled. Wine was alcohol and so the players paid, but Saulnier got his way and Chateau Libertas was free for Frenchmen.
Lucien Mias was also an explosive character, rambunctious, noisy and passionate. If any man put French rugby on the map it was Mias, even more than Jean Prat of Lourdes. After the match against the Springboks in 1952 when France took a hammering, he sat in the changing room and wept and said Never again. After the match against the Junior Springboks in Port Elizabeth, a horrible match, he went to Saulnier and asked for his passport so that he could go home. After the match at Ellis Park in 1958 he was first in the showers, singing while all his team-mates sat around in silent exhastion. But he was the one who should have been exhausted. Not only had he played with great effort and bravery but on the night before the match he had roamed the corridors of the hotel, Lutjes Langham in Johannesburg, roaring drunk. On the night before the vital second Test in the two-Test series, Mias had sinusitis. His solution was to drink a half a bottle of rum, which caused his drunkenness.
The captain of the French team for a vital Test was drunk. Mias was a small man for a lock. He would not make an international team as a lock these days, not even Japan. He was 1,87 metres tall and weighed 95 kilograms, but he had a rugby brain. But he was a rugby thinker and changed the game to an extent. Mias was the son of a Catalan gendarme who became a school teacher and then, married and a father, he studied medicine. He also decided to have a serious go at playing rugby.
He played 29 times for France. His big innovation was in the line-out. France could not match the Springboks for size but they could outwit them, and they did so. He introduced varieties into the line-out including the peel-off, which have stood the test of 50 years or more. And he could inspire men. France became the first team to beat the Springboks in a home series for 62 years.

French rugby was on the world map. It has stayed there ever since though, of late, it has been less innovative than it was in Mias's day.

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