"I'm closer to the end than the beginning," laughs 30-year-old Brice Dulin, despite the talented fullback only receiving 31 caps (including four as a winger) heading into the Six Nations 2021.
His first cap dates back to 16 June 2012 in Cordoba, Argentina. From there he would go on to be then-coach Philippe Saint-André's first choice during the following November test window. He scored his first test try against New Zealand on 9 November 2013 (in a French loss 26-19), and his second a week later against Tonga (a French win 38-18).
Dulin’s most recent Les Bleus appearance, however, was the Autumn Nations Cup final defeat to England in December. Before that, he had not played for France since 2017. Between his four appearances at Rugby World Cup 2015 and today, Dulin has only featured in seven tests: one in November 2016, four in 2017, then two at the end of 2020. In a career blighted by injuries, large voids mark Dulin’s highly promising international career.
A thunderous return during the Autumn Nations Cup
The arrival of Fabien Galthié at the helm of Les Bleus would mark a new chapter in Dulin’s history with France.
While he was absent from the Six Nations 2020 Championship, Dulin made his long-awaited international return against Italy in the Autumn Nations Cup on 28 November, a match Les Bleus would win 36-5. Fully displaying the style of play that left Dulin admired by so many – great restarts, agility, acceleration and attacking threat – he was shortlisted for the player of the tournament award alongside England’s Tom Curry and Maro Itoje, and Scotland winger Duhan Van der Merwe. If they needed it at all, the France coaching team were proved right in trusting him.
“There was a long moment of absence, a new generation has arrived and they have done some extraordinary things. I was the first to become a supporter watching them,” Dulin says from Nice, where he and the rest of the France squad are building for the Six Nations. “I am very happy to be part of this adventure. It's a winning team.”
Known for his ability under the high ball and his powerful kicking game, Dulin has quickly adapted to the new strategy of the France team. “There is a new dynamic created, a new way of working,” he explains. “Coming to work after victories and good performances is always easier than after the years of famine that we have experienced in the past. It's a whole: the group is living well because there have been victories.”
Scorer of six tries (and a penalty) in his test carrier, so far Dulin has experienced more defeats (18) than victories in his 31 appearances for Les Bleus. Yet he intends to bring his experience to create further success for a youthful France team that is on the rise.
“There has to be constant progress so that everything that has been done so far is capitalised by better results. Something new has been created. It is a lot of pleasure to come back to the group.”
Life in the Nice bubble
If the France squad had to give a reason for choosing Nice to make their Six Nations base it is to "change the air" above all else, according to the players. “We are lucky to have the hotel booked just for us, with a nice view above the sea and the sun that overlooks the terraces,” says Dulin.
However, a strict protocol is very well respected: coronavirus tests twice a week, the wearing of masks in the common areas of the hotel, a permanent ban on going out, trips by bus only to the training ground and gym, rooms cleaned and disinfected every day. These are now typical measures placed on life in professional sport in today's world.
“But the climate is very pleasant. Marcoussis is a little wet with the risk of snow this time of year. Changing location also allows the body and head to regenerate faster. This change of air is necessary,” assures Dulin.