Coupe du monde de rugby : « Une centaine de femmes, dont aucune blanche, qui se faisaient siffler… » Abdelatif Benazzi marqué à vie par cet épisode du Mondial 95

l’essentielThe former third-line player (55 years old, 78 caps) reflects in an interview on the journey of the French team in 1995, halted in the semi-finals (19-15) by South Africa, during a World Cup where « politics took precedence » over rugby. In his memory, a particularly striking moment stands out: before the semi-final against the Springboks, played in terrible weather conditions, black women attempted, amidst the jeers of the crowd, to make the field playable with brooms.

Après avoir remporté les tournées en Afrique du Sud (1993) et en Nouvelle-Zélande (1994), Abdelatif Benazzi, peut-on dire que vous entrez dans la compétition en tant que favori ?

Indeed. Of the three World Cups I competed in (1991, 1995, 1999, Editor’s note), it was the most favorable period to win it. This team held the record for victories against teams from the southern hemisphere on their home grounds. We also had a coach (Pierre Berbizier) who was a pioneer compared to what is done today, and who was ahead of his time.

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Comment s’est déroulée votre arrivée sur les lieux ?

On arrive une semaine avant tout le monde dans un camp d’entraînement loin de Pretoria et on avait comme +sparring-partners+ des tauliers d’une prison. On avait une ossature qui était pratiquement la même depuis trois-quatre ans, ce qui était rare à cette époque-là. Après l’apartheid, les Sud-Africains voulaient montrer au monde entier que même s’ils n’étaient pas une bonne équipe un an avant, ils se préparaient physiquement comme des monstres. Les All Blacks, qui avaient subi quelques humiliations, se préparaient comme il faut. Il fallait qu’on se prépare très dur pour être au top en quarts, en demi-finale, ce qui explique qu’on est montés crescendo, sans frayeur, même si ce match contre l’Écosse (22-19) nous a fait vraiment peur. On marque un essai par Émile Ntamack à la 84e minute.

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There is no comparison in the quarter-finals against Ireland (36-12) just before facing the Springboks in the semi-finals under extreme conditions…

This disturbed us. We didn’t know if we were going to play. We couldn’t cancel the game and play elsewhere, as nothing was planned for that. We had to wait for an hour and a half with the image of about a hundred women, none of them white, sweeping the field to drain the water, while being booed by the crowd. This long period of time made us a little bit off our game. In the first half, we were somewhat physically dominated, even though we weren’t trailing in the score. I especially remember the second half. We practically spent 35 minutes in their territory, and we could have scored three or four times with repeated scrums that we were dominating. The referee couldn’t manage to call a penalty try.

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Que ressentez-vous alors ?

There is a kind of doubt that arises with the referee blowing very quickly, up until that last action. I did it again 20 times, 200 times, I go behind the line with the speed that was mine on the slippery field. Despite the presence of Philippe Saint-André who is on the ground just in front of me and on whom I stumble, I fall and touch down but the referee had this very spontaneous reaction and ordered a scrum at 5 meters. It is a feeling of injustice that prevails. I think politics has taken over. This was confirmed during the official dinner after the final where he was thanked with a gold watch.

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Comment était l’atmosphère après le match ?

There was a lot of frustration within the team, and I had to calm the locker room by saying that I hadn’t scored so that we could remain focused and play for the third place to win the bronze medal, and especially break this streak against the English who had been beating us for five years. This served us well as we defeated them (19-9). We shattered this myth of misunderstanding with their famous « Good game! » by having an amazing post-match celebration with them.

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What do you, a native of Oujda (Morocco), think about the South Africans’ final victory?

Once again, something else was happening. As a believer, I saw that it was a matter of destiny for that country and it’s a good thing. Seeing the immensely important presence of Mandela, who was imprisoned for twenty-seven years, with that number 6 jersey symbolizes everything. Seeing his joy while presenting the World Cup, witnessing the enthusiasm of the crowd, with both Whites and Blacks embracing in the stands, and the rainbow colors flying, it was unimaginable two years prior. As someone who was born in Africa and has always fought against discrimination and obscurantism, it brought me great peace. I thought to myself that rugby serves a purpose beyond winning or losing, it helps solve social and political issues in certain countries.

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