Together, they represent arguably the most powerful weapon held by the current France side, a threatening trident that shakes opposing defenses. This is of course Les Bleues wings Caroline Boujard and Cyrielle Banet and full-back Emilie Boulard.
They were fielded as a three in two of the three matches of the Women’s Six Nations 2021: against Ireland (winning 56-15) and England (losing 10-6). In the game against Wales (a 53-0 win), it was Marine Ménager who replaced Cyrielle Banet.
During this ambitious and daring six-week campaign that placed the side in the psychological and sporting conditions of a Rugby World Cup, the three got to know each other better and formed a formidable trio. Caroline Boujard (37 caps) and Cyrielle Banet (19 caps ) have been team-mates in Montpellier since 2014, but 21-year-old Emilie Boulard, full-back for her club, Chilly-Mazarin, had no international experience before the kick-off of the 2021 tournament.
"Caroline and Cyrielle are the types of girls that you would not like to have in front of you, especially one on one," warns Boulard. “I think they scare a lot of people. They gallop hard, they have some incredible hands-off, especially Cyrielle; Caroline runs super fast. They are exceptionally good players. These are the girls we take as an example. Everyone wants to get to their level and have their career."
“There was a good chemistry straight away between us and we managed to get together with Emilie straight away,” says Boujard. “And yet, it was not particularly easy for someone who had just arrived because it often takes years of experience to get to know each other that well and yet she was able to adapt very well. It’s quite rare."
"Emilie has already been in Pôle France for a few years, at the top level, but it is true that she arrived with us shortly before," adds Banet. “We didn't feel like she was a novice at all. It is a matter of instinct and spontaneity. She has put herself in the direct mould in the game plan. She has a very free game. "
An immediate chemistry
If some have seen her come out of nowhere in this team, it may also be because Boulard arrived to rugby a little late. "I was in an agricultural high school, and generally rugby is the favourite sport of agricultural high schools," she smiles. She was looking for a team sport, a sport to play with her friends at boarding school. And that's how rugby presented itself to her.
The #WomensSixNations Team of The Championship, chosen by YOU! 👀— Women's Six Nations (@Womens6Nations) April 29, 2021
With over 83,000 votes counted. This is the 15 players YOU chose from @nickheathsport & @NHunt09’s nominees for this years TOTC! 📋 pic.twitter.com/j5erJJ3gTv
"We were very close, very tight-knit, we weren't afraid of being hurt," she says. Highly active, she has experienced a meteoric rise. Playing for her club in September 2017, she was quickly spotted and joined the French high-level set-up the following year. In early 2019, she played with the U20s, went on tour to Australia and New Zealand with France 7 Development, participated in the 2019 Summer Universiade in Italy. Her arrival in the French international set-up was only delayed because of a pandemic that slowed down her trajectory.
"She is a talented player, and our profiles are quite identical with a lot of speed, taking intervals, and I think that is why the chemistry has taken so well," states Boujard, who does not fear the competition for her position. "I have a preferred position at 15 which I really enjoy, but playing on the wing, 11 or 14, is fine for me, especially when tournaments go like this. Playing different positions is an asset."
"For players like Caroline and I, what the staff wants to put in place is a game that adapts very well," says Banet. "We are very free to take the initiative, which is great when you want to have fun playing. The staff push us to make choices, and it does not matter if it is good or bad, at least it's done thoroughly. With our trident at the back, as we are instinctive players, we try to get around with the spaces we have, it's a game that suits us totally. "
The strength of the collective
It is always difficult to isolate a particular player from a team, as the strength of the whole team is essential. And when Banet speaks of a "trident", it is indeed the whole image that emerges: three peaks supported by the same solid axis. This is how Boujard, top try-scorer in the Women’s Six Nations 2021 and selected in the 'Team of the Tournament' alongside three of her team-mates, also sees it.
"It is not so much a satisfaction for me as for the team, because if we look a little, for 80 per cent of my tests I did not do much," tempers the winger, who played on the right against Wales and Ireland, but at left against England. “I just finalised the action. For the team it is good, but for me it does not change a thing. The good dynamics of the team and the group made it happen quickly, it was great. "
Between the three of them, they scored nine of the 15 France tries in the tournament's three matches. With a little over a year before the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, Les Bleues went through all the emotions, including disappointment in the final minutes against England. But all these experiences continue to build the growing legend of this unique side.
"I used all these experiences, I took everything there was to take," shares Boulard. "It was tough at first because I didn't have the level, I didn't have rugby experience, I was a bit behind technically. And in the end, being in contact with the best helped me a lot and I was able to improve very quickly."
A spirit of solidarity that has grown stronger
The group's choice to live in isolation in a sanitary bubble for six weeks solidified the bonds between all of them, and will surely be invaluable experience a year and a half out from Rugby World Cup 2021.
“We were all in the same boat; we were all going through the same thing. Being six weeks together, this tournament, victories, defeats ... all of this made us realise the real solidarity that we have created between us and that is felt a lot on the ground. At times when we are able to defend for a long time, where we systematically move forward, I think that all of this made it possible to further develop the collective potential of this team," notes Banet.
French women's rugby is now firmly focused on the final stages of the domestic championship, while international competitive action will not resume for several months. But Boujard, Banet and Boulard hope to be part of the group that will travel to Auckland and Whangārei in 2022.
“For all athletes, it's still a goal to have a big event like this. If I have the chance to make the World Cup next year, it will be good for me. Otherwise, I will try to give everything to go there in four years," promises Boulard.
"The postponement of this Rugby World Cup bothers us, but it also gives us an extra year to work, which is not negligible," says Boujard. “I never doubted my team. There, we took a mental step forward by doing four big performances in a row. I think the group is evolving and growing and that's the most important thing in our tournament. I have no doubt that we can win this Rugby World Cup."