by Rouget Maia (Reporter for ESPN Brazil, Rouget played 17 years for the Brazilian National Rugby Team) [Additional reporting Zilia Zara-Papp]
AUCKLAND, NZ – Playing rugby is overcoming challenges. The challenge that France is facing is enormous: the best team favored to win the World Cup playing at home with the support of the fans. The All Blacks have learned from their mistakes and are focused on winning the title.
But that the French team is in the Rugby World Cup Final, you can be sure of one thing: it is no accident. And no challenge is insurmountable for a real rugby team.
The formation of a rugby team is very different from those of football or other ball sports. Rugby is a sport that involves, above all, loyalty, towards your opponent, and towards your teammates. A rugby team continues to exist within the heart of each of the players who were part of it. A rugby team lasts a lifetime.
A rugby club is a cathartic entity that transcends family ties, race and creed.
In rugby, the contact is very heavy and exposes the player to ultimately count on his teammates. Therefore, a rugby player is first and foremost a giver, a rugby player is a person who has lots of brothers, who knows that the game only ends when the referee blows the whistle after the 80th minute.
Moreover, a rugby player knows that the game had already begun at training in the previous week.
At the final of the Rugby World Cup, France has already begun ahead of the team that presented the best standard of play and the strongest attack. More than all that, had the best fitness and an efficient and aggressive defensive system. It may seem contradictory, but that is how the All Blacks defend, they attack the ball until they get it.
Those who have never played rugby might think that France has already lost this match. I do not think, I think the All Blacks are the favorites, period.
France has not lost the game, unless they believe that they have already lost it. But I doubt that the French fall to this kind of nonsense. In addition to their professionalism, the experience of each of the 30 players who form the team counts. In every minute of the game from childhood to today, each player learns that a rugby match is there to be respected. The game is there to be won.
The World Cup Final will not be won by the best team, it will be won by the team that overcomes.
The All Blacks need to overcome a strange mixture of favoritism of being the best team in the World with the fear of losing again at a World Cup, they must overcome the pressure.
France needs to overcome their technical and tactical deficiencies against the stronger opponent, they have to overcome the lack of credibility the team gathered and must overcome the problem of bonding within the team.
And they took the first step in that direction after their defeat to Tonga. When the players got together and decided to represent France, while they seemed disparagingly weak against Tonga, they beat England with great credibility. They won as a rugby team that overcame its defects, that overcame the intrigues, the gossip and the differences.
At the end of the Rugby World Cup, loyalty and camaraderie will win, history will win. This is rugby. No matter who the champion is.
I dedicate this post to my friend Eduardo Guedes Pinto, player from Pasteur Athletic Club, a Brazilian rugby club with a French heritage. Eternal first rower, rugby player in the best sense of the word. One of the most beloved game opponents, a friend who lived encouraging me to run faster, tackle more, to be ever more a rugby player.
Guedão, my thoughts are with you, who knows all well what it means to overcome.
*Photos thanks to Aki Nagao