a rugby summer at the Stade de France

If the world owes much to Nelson Mandela, it is France rugby owes him an additional debt. Before Bernard Lapasset crossed paths with him at the 1995 World Cup in South Africa, there simply wasn’t the idea of ​​a similar competition organized by France alone. “I had the opportunity to meet (…) an extraordinary man who gave me an idea of ​​what sport can do to change society,” said the former President of the French Rugby Union. at AFP 2017. “That’s when I said to myself: why can’t France have the same tools to project the image of a country moving through rugby? »

And one of those tools will be none other than that Stade de France which had not yet materialized at the time the competition took shape in the sole imagination of Mr. Lapasset. Built for the 1998 FIFA World Cup, it was reversed a few years later, in 2003, when France was chosen to organize the event. It remains to let the sauce rise and Max Guazzini grabs the whip.

Angered at not being able to organize a new game at the Parc des Princes after filling it during a clash against Newcastle in April 2005, the former Stade Français manager promises to do it again at the Stade de France in October. Of these, 80,000 people (with a maximum tonnage of 81,338) have attended the first game of the regular season against Stade Toulousain. A smash hit – with the Drums of the Bronx to heat up the enclosure – and a world record for a rugby union championship match. A love story has just been born between rugby and Saint-Denis and a handful of other legendary matches will not contradict it.

France loving each other at 9-3

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In this beautiful atmosphere, on September 7, 2007, hundreds of dancers and extras entered the SDF for the World Championship opening ceremony. They form paintings with names that smell good of synthol, penaltouches and French flair, such as “the fraternity pass” or “the big hand-to-hand combat”. A moving show by the late Christophe Dominici like a slalom, but which does not prevent a semi-disaster as the XV of France then immediately bows to Argentina in front of 79,312 spectators. The mistake in Bernard Laporte’s famous reading of Guy Moquet’s letter to players petrified by the stake before they even step onto the pitch?

It doesn’t matter in the end. The Blues need to recover and find the Stade de France for the fear game against Ireland after an easy win over Namibia on September 16 in Toulouse. Surprise: The spectators are even more numerous than in the first leg. White-hot by the 80,267 souls present that day (the third largest influx in the history of the SDF), the French XV settled down with a 25-to-3 win, thanks in particular to the sight of Frédéric Michalak and Vincent Clerc’s legs. France stands, in the truest sense of the word. But the best is yet to come.

Stopover in Cardiff and return to Saint-Denis

After another win over Georgia, France advance to the quarter-finals and meet a 15-man monster: New Zealand, who have beaten them in the last seven meetings. A loss to Argentina obliges it even toppling the All Blacks far from its country, at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.

After challenging the New Zealanders during a mythical counter-haka by putting his eyes in those of the blacks, the XV enters a match that, as the poet Thierry Lacroix then explains on the TF1 microphone, ” will be tough .It’s combat, it’s contact.But it’s also a good game, as evidenced by the trials of Dusautoir and Jauzion, which allow the Blues to shoot down the Titans of the Pacific 20 to 18. A sea further, France becomes oval.Over 16 million viewers – a historic figure for a rugby match – fall into a rugby trance and fall in love with Cardiff’s warrior Sébastien Chabal, the Christ of the caves, becomes a national idol, promised like his comrades on the roof of the world, or rather the from Saint Denis.

When the rose triumphs over the rooster

On October 14, 2007, the French team entered the eponymous stadium, packed with 80,283 spectators (the second largest attendance in history) and certainly a few taps, to take on England. The rest of the French are also at the meeting point far away from the enclosure. Giant screens have been installed in around forty cities, 80,000 people are gathering on the Champ de Mars in Paris and TF1 is preparing to attract its largest audience in history for a rugby match, with 18.3 million viewers, tipped by a final dream victory.

Unfortunately, the players do not follow on the pitch. Blame in particular on the cruel Jonny Wilkinson, who signed a penalty and a killer drop in the very last moments of the game, giving the XV de la Rose a 14-to-9 victory. Big disappointment for the Blues who didn’t, luckily don’t have far to go home.

But if the SDF sadly empties that autumn evening, it fills up just as quickly a week later for the South Africa-England final, won by the first 15-6 for what remains the greatest crowd of all time to date in Saint Denis. A way like any other to send the elevator back to Nelson Mandela.

The New Zealand team celebrate winning the 2007 Rugby World Cup.

The big winners

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“Despite France’s defeat (…) this 6th edition was a complete success,” summarizes Lapasset at the end of the competition. “We broke all records: in attendance, crowds in the stadiums, revenue. Proof of this is the 97 per cent occupancy rate for the 42 games played in France, or the 4.2 billion spectators in total, performances that cannot be surpassed ahead of the 2015 edition in England.

But that’s not all: the federation also saw a 13.74% increase in the number of licensees and rugby features in a variety of physical education courses: “This has enabled General to increase the visibility of rugby in society ‘ Lapasset recalls.

Hosting the Top 14 final on Friday 24 June 2022, the Stade de France continues its momentum after the world. In 2008, the meeting between Stade Français and Stade Toulousain enabled the Ile-de-France venue (again) to break the world attendance record for a league game in the regular season. So let’s hope it will be just as crowded, if not more so, for the ten games it will host during the 2023 World Cup, which will also be played in France…

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