31 French players have returned to training in Marcoussis, home to the national rugby centre, at the beginning of August for the first two training camps of the year in preparation for Rugby World Cup 2021, which will be played in New Zealand from 8 October to 12 November, 2022.
"We are very happy to be back in action," smiles Annick Hayraud, the manager of the French women's team, happy to "be able to meet up with the girls again, to see them playing rugby again. It's great when you remember what we went through last season, which was very complicated, very long. Now it's lighter."
A doubleheader against the World Champions
The French women's team returns as the nation welcomes home its women's rugby sevens team from Tokyo, all proud to show off the silver medal they won at the end of a successful tournament at the Games.
"These are always important moments, and in our practice it always puts a smile on your face, it's very rewarding. It's rugby above all. These are players that we have regularly with us, that we have known for years. It's a just reward that they can bring us a medal. This medal is for all of French rugby," insists Hayraud.
Even if none of the Olympians have returned to training yet, some of them will be invited to join the group at the September training camp. "This medal is a collective reward because all the players know what sacrifices they have had to make, and not for two or three months, but for years! To get a medal at sevens at the Games, it is not enough to prepare a few months or even a year beforehand," said the manager, who plans to keep a few players for the November tour.
The programme of matches has already been announced. There will be three of them and they promise to be high-flying: against South Africa, on 6 November in Vannes, then twice against New Zealand on 13 November in Pau and 20 November in Castres.
This will be a homecoming for Les Bleues against the Springbok Women, who they have not played since Rugby World Cup 2014 in France. It will also be a good warm-up for their Pool C match at the next Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, which they will open on 8 October, 2022, at Eden Park in Auckland.
The impact of the Olympic silver medal
"Having a tour like this is totally unusual," warns Hayraud. "It's going to put us in the thick of things with a different style from England, who we play more regularly and who we'll meet again during the Six Nations tournament."
The upcoming fixture against the current World Champions has been delivered through opportunism. "Two years ago we were supposed to go to New Zealand and it didn't happen. So when we heard that they were coming to Europe with the boys, we immediately wanted to benefit from their visit and welcome them," says the former fly-half and full-back of the French national team.
"It's really great for us but also for the others because they will be playing against England. It's a real opportunity to play these nations. If we could have played Canada, we would have played Canada because they are important nations and it's always very rewarding for the future."
The idea is also to expand the France group over the coming months, with not only the arrival of sevens players but also young recruits from the Pole France, who will participate in several training courses.
The staff wants to create "a healthy competition among the girls, so that each one can pull the other forward and that our whole team can benefit from it".
What will also benefit this team is everything that the women's rugby sevens team's silver medal represents, which is continuing to have an impact on every female rugby player in France.
"The most important thing is that it shows that hard work pays off," says Hayraud. "These are players who have worked hard. These players have been training and playing together for 10-12 years. They have had a very important collective experience and we will have to draw inspiration from them. When these girls enter the group, they will bring confidence, control, experience and that is important in the tight matches. These girls will give us that little bit extra."
Photo credit: France Rugby