The commotion at the Stade Français. The leader wants to retain the lead in the championship. And, above all, settle the scores with the neighbor, the rival of Racing 92. “We haven't won at home against them since 2017, so the number 1 objective is to win the derby,” says the CEO of the Parisian club, Thomas Lombard. An ambition shared by the captain of the Pink Soldiers, Paul Gabrillagues. “This match is always very exciting. There are quite a few new players. It is important to imbue them with this idea of a derby, that it is a special match, very important for the supporters, the players. For the whole club,” poses the emblematic second line of the SFP.
To achieve this, the Parisians have no shortage of arguments, they who are leaders of the Top 14 after six days. “We had a special start to the season with these first three matches without the new coaches (Laurent Labit and Karim Ghezal, Editor’s note), continues Paul Gabrillagues. As a group, it made us closer. It was important that we, the players, took responsibility. We are aware that there are still gaps in our game, that we are still getting used to it. But, little by little, things are falling into place.” With major strong points already identified.
It is not for nothing that Fabien Galthié chose the coach of the Parisian conquest, the former hooker Laurent Sempéré, to come and strengthen the staff of the XV of France in place of Karim Ghezal, who took the opposite path. Following on from last season, the Stade Français pack continues to impress. Reigning on the sidelines, dominating the closed scrum (five penalties collected in this sector against Lyon, last Saturday). In rugby, everything starts up front. With such a pack, Stade Français can rely on a solid and powerful base, a collective that is well-oiled and organized down to the smallest detail.
While waiting for the arrival of Laurent Labit and Karim Ghezal, it was the Englishman Paul Gustard who led the staff. The defense specialist took the opportunity to tighten the bolts a little more. His expertise is such that extending his contract, which would run until June 2024, had been raised to the rank of priority. The technician is now in Paris until June 2026. The players unanimously welcome his importance in the Parisian system. Demanding and without filter, his influence on the team's state of mind is well established.
Little by little, the backbone of the team is built. And it is with a 37-year-old veteran, who came out of retirement to put on his boots again, that the Parisians found an effective scrum half: Rory Kockott. “He’s a nice person, a good guy. Guys who get along well outside are important. A group that lives well can be felt on the pitch. Rory is a leader and we need several of them on a team. He brings us a lot on that,” appreciates Paul Gabrillagues. Proof of his importance, having come as a medical joker, he has just seen his freelance extended until March. At least. Time for one of the star recruits, New Zealand scrum-half Bard Weber (17 caps with the All Blacks) to make his mark. Another newcomer, from Pau, the English fly-half Zac Henry. His vision of the game, his individual technique and his scoring qualities are already valuable. A new-look hinge that will certainly continue to move upmarket. Offering great prospects to the Parisian club.
When he arrived last season, many wondered who was this Jérémy Ward, beaten in 2015 for the title of best young South African player? In the jersey of the Durban Sharks, of which he was vice-captain, he became the official understudy of the Springbok Lukhanyo Am. Hence his desires elsewhere. Jeremy Charles Ward quickly got everyone in agreement. Solid in defense, valuable in attack with his meters gained, always well placed. To become indispensable at the center of the Parisian attack. Even more so at the start of the season where the ex-Baby Bok has started all six Top 14 matches and already scored four tries (6 in 21 matches last season). His exemplary state of mind, his determination, his regular declarations of love for the Parisian jersey (and the public) make him Jean-Bouin's favorite. His association with the center of the XV de la Rose, Joe Marchant, seems promising. The two players were teamed up for the first time in Lyon a week ago. The pair were brought back against Racing 92. And we are impatiently waiting to see what they will give as their automatisms and their benchmarks improve.