Meet double centurion and code breaker Chloé Pelle
In the build-up to the HSBC Canada Sevens in Vancouver from 3 to 5 March, World Rugby caught up with French veteran Chloé Pelle to discuss her 200th match in Sydney, her Olympic and refereeing ambitions ... and her passion for cryptography.
When Chloé Pelle is not preventing cybercrime off the pitch, she is breaking records on it.
The cybersecurity engineer became only the second French player to play in 200 women's World Series matches when she took part in Les Bleues' 20-7 semi-final win against the USA at the HSBC Sydney Sevens at the end of January.
On joining Camille Grassineau in the select club, Pelle felt an immense sense of pride in leading the team out as a way of marking the special occasion.
To celebrate her 200th match, Pelle was also given a small bunch of flowers in the locker room, along with a card with encouraging words from her friends written inside.
We go again in Vancouver! 🇨🇦— World Rugby 7s (@WorldRugby7s) February 28, 2023
📆 3-5 March
🎟 Get your tickets to #Canada7s: https://t.co/deBxy6tqyi#HSBC7s pic.twitter.com/CjDVjTF5nh
But after that brief moment in the spotlight, the ever-modest Pelle was happy to just be one of the team again.
"For those 20 metres before the girls followed me onto the pitch, I enjoyed myself and then it was on with the match. You don't want to get too lost in the emotion," she said.
Pelle was simply happy that the milestone match also coincided with a victory.
"It's symbolic, it's always nice to make the 200th, especially to win and to go to the final, it obviously feels good.
"I had asked the girls to make the final as a present for my 200th. And they did it. It's always a pleasure and I hope there will be many more. We still have to work so that other girls can reach 200 later on.
"Camille and I are the first, but we certainly don't want to be the last."
It could be a while before the two-strong membership of the 200 Club becomes three, however.
With Fanny Horta (184 caps) and Marjorie Mayans (179) retired, Shannon Izar (143) and Carla Neisen (133) are still quite far adrift of the double century.
Turning silver to gold
Playing in 200 matches has rightly led to some reflection. Looking back on her near-10-year career on the Series, Pelle runs through her highlights, with the first final in Kitakyushu in 2018 and the time they beat the Black Ferns Sevens in Dubai in 2019 two that immediately come to mind.
However, Pelle's focus is not on what happened in the past but on what the future could bring for her and the team.
Two runners-up finishes in this year's Series, on top of silver medals in the Rugby World Cup Sevens and Olympic Games points to the potential of the group.
"I'm mostly trying to look ahead. We've made two World Series finals and now we want more," she says. "It would be nice to have gold, one day. Silver is good, but gold is better!
"We know we still have a lot of work to do to be more consistent. We know that we are capable of reaching the final, and we have proved it. Now we have to be able to reach it more often. We're on the right path, and I'm quite optimistic for the future."
Pelle has set foot on plenty of podiums, but always on the second step. Taking the next step is what continues to motivate her, at 33 years of age, especially with the Paris Olympics on the horizon.
"To compete in the Games at home would be extraordinary," she says. "If I have the chance to continue playing and to be part of the team that plays, that's the goal.
"After that, it's still a selection, there are many very good players in the French team. I hope I'll be there and I'll do everything I can to make it. But if I'm not there, it will mean that there are girls who are better, and who make the team progress, which will be good news for the team.
"I would like to be an Olympic champion with the French rugby sevens team. When I feel a little sluggish and when I don't feel like going to training – sometimes we train alone and it's raining, it's cold – you remind yourself you have to do everything you can if you want to be an Olympic champion. You might have to get up early in the cold but, at the end of the day, you'll be happy you did it.
"It's a dream to be an Olympic champion."
Whatever happens next, Pelle does not see a life outside rugby. That is why she started a course to become a referee in 2022. She has passed the written federal exam and still has the oral exam to take in May. She has 18 months left to complete her training.
Refereeing is finally a logical step for her. "Since I started playing rugby, I've always asked myself a lot of strange questions about the rules, to always find the limit of what you can do. And so to find the limit, you have to know the rule," she explains as if it were obvious.
It was extensive discussions with the former professional referee, Salem Attalah, that convinced her to go down this path. "It gives you a different perspective, you know the rules a little bit better and you know how referees work a little bit better, so it can only help on the field," she says.
"When I'm a referee, I want to say, 'Just play! Look at that! You can do that! I want to do that so much... the aim on the pitch is for the players to have fun. But it's true, I have to restrict myself; as a referee, I can't say all that... Frankly, I enjoy myself and I have fun. It's another way of looking at the game."
Her goal? To become a referee on the circuit after having been one of the most outstanding players of the last 10 years. "If I'm good enough... it's not a given. We'll see how it goes," she says cautiously. "But yeah, I'd love to get on the World Series after the Games to continue to be in that world of sevens."
Pelle has another non-rugby passion – cryptography (the study of secret codes) – which she feels correlates in some ways to her life as a high-level athlete.
"Let's not lie, when you work in cybersecurity, you have to be a bit paranoid. You always have to think about what the attacker might do, what cunning idea they might have. That's what I like to do – think of novel ideas to get around the security systems.
Just like in rugby but with a different form of defence? "You need to have innovative ideas to get around the opponent's defences, yes that works too," she laughs.