Until the eleventh hour, there was a risk of the team not being able to get to Monaco at all. It was not so much leaving Madagascar that was a problem, but being able to return home once the competition was over. But the Ladies Makis Sevens are used to adapting to unforeseen difficulties and focusing despite a difficult environment – this is what makes them strong and what gives them the motivation to succeed.
"The teams are used to last-minute transport problems," reveals Frédéric Dumant, a former Racing 92 player with the under-20s, who has now retrained as a marketing consultant for the Madagascar Rugby Union. He worked closely with World Rugby and the authorities to get the players to the World Rugby Sevens Repechage tournament in Monaco.
This will be the second time the Makis have participated in a repechage, the previous being in Dublin in July 2016. “Compared to European, Oceanian and Asian teams, we play very little; we only have a competition over a weekend,” explains Dumant.
“It's not easy to play in Africa. The ideal would be to play in the USA or Oceania, but financially and logistically, it is extremely complicated."
Madagascar had managed to organize a ten-day training camp in Japan in September 2019 with the Colombian team; as fate would have it, it is against Colombia that Madagascar will play in Pool C, along with France and Hong Kong, three big opponents.
“The Makis are not of exceptional build, but they make up for it with fast play and a game of movement. We still have a margin in the kicking game and in the defence,” says Dumant.
The team are aware of their strengths and weaknesses and want to be realistic for Monaco. "There, we will shine more than in Dublin," he continues. “We're going to do great things in Monaco. It is a new generation of players and that's good for the growth of the group, that's what matters.
"No one expects anything from the Olympics except to play against stronger teams. We are all aware that we must progress."
2020: A chance to reset
The staff and the union are aiming further and higher than ever. Before failing to qualify for the Challenger Series, Madagascar also missed out on Rugby World Cup 2018 – but the team are still in the race to participate in the next edition in South Africa next year.
A joint preparation camp, the Rugby Africa Solidarity Sevens, with Kenya and Tunisia in Tunis from April 29 to May 9, was beneficial for the team, Dumant says. "Without that, we would not have played much since the XV championship had not started either.”
The team gathered early in March after a marked improvement in public health conditions at the end of January. Training in small groups of two or three could be organised to recover gradually, then two mini tournaments with the clubs. After a blank year, the Makis have been able to hold out.
“2020 was a blank year but it allowed us to talk to each other to put the Sevens forward. Everyone understood that this was the discipline that could bring us international recognition. Monaco will thus be the starting point for going further, starting with the Rugby World Cup Sevens,” insists Dumant.
In 2020, Madagascar should have celebrated 115 years of rugby. But even if the party was curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the ambition to excel has only grown.