Rarely – never? - the Ile-de-France derby pitted two highly ranked teams against each other. This will be the case this Saturday (3 p.m.) with Stade Français Paris, leader, which welcomes its rival Racing 92, third behind the Pau Section, to Jean-Bouin. A shock at the top - certainly after only five days - between two teams in full renewal, who did not miss the resumption of the championship after the long break from the World Cup.
Paris, with only one setback (at Bayonne 16-3) in five days, struck hard last weekend by winning, for the first time in its history, on the LOU pitch (32-36). “Each victory allows us to work well, with serenity and a good state of mind,” greets the new Parisian manager, Laurent Labit. Even more so when it's an away victory, against a formidable opponent for us. The club had never won in Lyon, which has great ambitions in this championship. It’s a victory that does us good and allows us to continue after the victory against Castres at home.”
This derby will inevitably have a special flavor for the new man at the head of the Pink Soldiers. For six years, he was in fact in the “enemy” camp. On the other side of the ring road, at the head, with Laurent Travers, of the Racingmen, whom they had led to their only title of the modern era, by lifting the Brennus shield in Barcelona in 2016. It is now up to orders from Stade Français that he will return to his old team.
“Of course” this match is going to be special, he admits. Even if, since then, a lot of water has flowed under the bridge, since he has just come out of a mandate in charge of the attack on the XV of France, under the orders of Fabien Galthié.
“It’s been a while since I left, a lot of things have happened there, a lot of changes too,” says the 55-year-old technician. It will be a pleasure for me to meet a lot of players who are still at the club again. On the staff side, things have changed a lot, even if we know each other of course. It's always special, I spent six years there. But, today, I changed clubs and what interests me is what is happening with Stade Français Paris.”
What, then, of his relationship with his former alter ego Laurent Travers? Their separation, signaling the end of their successful duo which had started in Montauban (moved from Pro D2 to the European Cup) then was exported to Castres (2013 champion), had been rather frosty. They were said to be estranged, irreconcilable... Listening to Laurent Labit: “We saw each other not very long ago. It was in Castres, at the beginning of October, to celebrate the 2013 title. He too has moved on. He left the field, he is president of Racing today. We always see each other with great pleasure.”
And to insist: “We spent 15 years together and we were lucky to win most of the time. These are just good memories, that will still be the case on Saturday. Even if only one of them will win.” Barely the time to arrive at the Porte d'Auteuil that this derby dear to the hearts of the supporters is already looming. “We all know the importance of this match. For our supporters first and foremost, for the club. Derbies are always special matches, he admits. But the pressure would have been there for another opponent too because this championship does not allow for relaxation.
Laurent Labit nevertheless wants to play down the event: “It turns out that it is Racing that we are hosting but, if it had been another team, the objective is to confirm our good dynamic, our good start to the season. This victory in Lyon will be confirmed if we have a good result on Saturday.” History of continuing on a high basis to look towards the top of the ranking.
“It’s true that we worked at the start of the season hoping to get off to a good start,” underlines the Parisian manager. We were hoping for two wins out of three, they went for three wins. The players quickly responded and returned to the dynamic of last season, also with the arrival of players who brought something. Finding ourselves at the top of the rankings is nice, but there’s a lot of work involved.” To be confirmed by a prestigious success. With quite a revenge to take for the Parisians: the Ciel et Blanc have indeed won during their last seven visits to Jean-Bouin since 2018...