« I cannot reword »

l’essentielTonight in Boé, the ceremony for the Amateur Rugby Trophies of Lot-et-Garonne is taking place. The event is sponsored by Philippe Sella, who shares his connection with grassroots rugby.

Quels sont vos souvenirs de votre expérience dans le rugby non professionnel ?

Mes débuts à Clairac forcément, un club qui n’existe malheureusement plus aujourd’hui. J’ai commencé à 12 ans, avec un éducateur que j’ai toujours plaisir à revoir, Vincent Millan. J’ai suivi les traces de mon papa, qui a joué jusqu’à 42 ans. Et j’ai une émotion particulière en repensant à ces années-là car j’ai eu la chance de jouer une paire de matches avec lui, alors que j’étais encore cadet ! Avec l’âge, il jouait pilier (rires). Mais quel plaisir… Comme tous mes souvenirs de ces années cadets à Clairac, et ce match de championnat de France contre Gujan-Mestras. On nous avait dit de nous méfier de leur arrière, un certain Patrice Lagisquet…

Vous avez également connu le rugby amateur au SUA.

At the age of 18, I joined SUA in the junior Reichel team. The following year, in 1981, my coach Jean-Louis Berniès informed the coach of the senior team, René Bénésis, that he had a promising young player in his ranks. And if he selected him, he would no longer see him in the junior team. That’s exactly what happened… From 1981 to 1996.

Comment viviez-vous le rugby de haut niveau à l’époque, qui est très différent de celui d’aujourd’hui ?

It has changed a lot. At first, I was studying in Bordeaux, at Creps. So I trained there with the university team. I could only train with Agen on Thursday evenings. And even then, it was only when there was no university match! When I started teaching and got a position in Agen, it became simpler. But we only had three training sessions per week: one for recovery, one for physical training, and one for tactics. That’s it. After that, we trained individually. Just like what farmers did every day in their profession!

Comment avez-vous vécu l’apparition du rugby professionnel en 1995 ?

During the 1995 World Cup in South Africa, we felt the wave of change. There was already a strong involvement in rugby there. Personally, my professional rugby career really took off during the 1996-1997 season when I joined the Saracens. It was a great opportunity to experience something new with my family. We went from Agen to a city with 10 million inhabitants! I spent two years in London where I made some great connections. It was the beginning of professionalism, and we could dedicate ourselves 100% to rugby. A true pleasure for a passionate person like me.

Est-ce que le rugby amateur et professionnel sont très distincts l’un de l’autre ?

In amateur rugby, you also commit yourself. However, there is more distance from the club. But the spirit of camaraderie remains essential regardless of the team. I loved my amateur period. It’s all about passion, the attachment to the club. I remember riding my moped in Bourran, my village, with my blue and white flag. Playing for SUA was my dream. The passion for rugby should be the link between professional and amateur.

What does amateur rugby evoke for you today?

A sport that brings people together in cities and villages. It was true before, it is true now. And I am certain it will be in the future. The rules are challenging, there are small ones, strong ones, thin ones. But everyone comes together around this oval ball. It is also the joy of playing for one’s club, for one’s community. I will never forget wearing the colors of Clairac. I read the newspaper to follow the results of amateur clubs. Amateur rugby is part of my culture.

You also have a special attachment to training.

If it weren’t for all these rugby schools, all these amateur clubs, we wouldn’t have dozens and dozens of professional players. They all come from fields like those in Aiguillon, Sainte-Livrade, Nérac, Layac, etc. And even if not all of them will become professionals, if they have the passion, they must continue to play. Find that space to thrive with their teammates, families, and supporters.

Pourquoi répondez-vous si souvent aux demandes des écoles de rugby ?

J’essaye de jongler avec mes petits-enfants, car la famille est très importante pour moi. Mais quand on me sollicite, c’est un plaisir. Et je ressens un plaisir partagé quand je suis au bord des terrains. Je vois des sourires. Je suis parfois un peu timide, mais j’y ai toujours des échanges fraternels. Comme si on se connaissait toujours. Le ballon y est pour beaucoup…

Le rugby, tout comme d’autres sports, fait face à une pénurie d’arbitres. Cependant, leur rôle est extrêmement crucial. Pourquoi cela est-il le cas ?

Simply because you cannot play without a referee. The referee is part of the group of people involved in a rugby match. We may not agree with their decisions, but respect should be central. Their role is not easy, being alone against 30 people. Additionally, in football for example, there are no clusters of players, so the ball is always visible. In rugby, many actions involve players coming together. The referee must make a quick decision. They may make mistakes. So what? Don’t players make mistakes too? In my opinion, their role is essential and even rewarding. To attract new referees, perhaps there should be more communication about learning to become a referee, which is currently less known than becoming a player. This could interest girls and boys who, for various reasons, cannot play rugby.