Gabriel Lacroix would never have believed that a rugby match played with La Rochelle on January 13, 2018 against Ulster would be the last of his career. Selected a year earlier to play a test match with the France B XV against the All Blacks (he scored a double that day), then an “official” selection two weeks later against Japan (with a new try as a bonus), the former winger had to end his career prematurely. After struggling for three years to return to the highest level, the native of Toulouse finally announced the end of his career in 2021, at just 27 years old. For Le Figaro, Gabriel Lacroix returned – not without emotions – to the painful moments of his life and to his vision of the future.

LE FIGARO. – Gabriel, how are you today? Are you fulfilled in your new life?

Gabriel Lacroix: Today, things are a little better. After my injury and the premature end of my career, I had complicated years. This has not been easy. Now, I’ve looked around a bit, I’ve traveled, I know what I want, which is to settle down at home, in the Gers. I really missed this place. Afterwards, there is the professional project to continue to refine. Otherwise physically, I will never return to the way I was before. But it’s like that. And mentally (he sighs), there were ups and downs, it was difficult. When you have always lived from your passion, when you have never had to ask yourself questions, when you have been in this since you were very young… The day when things change and you have to reconvert without ever having tried something else, it’s hard.

How did you behave when you were unwell?

I became extremely withdrawn into myself. I developed severe bigorexia (excessive dependence on sporting activity, particularly to develop muscle mass, Editor’s note). It may make you smile but it is truly complicated to live with. There is also the fact of not finding this project that would have allowed me to see the long term and of always getting stuck on something without ever really accepting that it is over… As soon as you have any project that arrives, you are still enthusiastic but when you start to compare with what you did before, you realize that your project is rotten. And then you go back into a spiral where things are shit. Clearly.

Do you still have pain? Do you exercise?

I have this addiction to sport… I also do what my knee allows me to do but I continue to push it quite a bit so there is still a lot of pain. I learned to live with it. It’s a pain that is part of me now. I have the right, I believe, to do all sports. I just no longer have the right to make it my job, to have an employment contract since I suffered a loss of license following the end of my career. But after that, it’s all on me. If I want to ruin my knee, I’ll keep going. And if I don’t want to, I brake. Nobody forbids me anything, I can do whatever I want.

Starting again with an amateur club, would you like the idea?

I do not think so. Unless with all my childhood friends, we all end up in the same place and in the same club… There, I would happily start again but otherwise, no.

At the time of your injury, do you think you were at the peak of your career?

No, I do not think so. I was moving up, blossoming even more. At my peak, I don’t hope so, I think I could have performed for a little while and a little better than what I was doing, and why not play in Tournaments. When I got injured, I had just played my first selection and there was a Tournament coming up behind. I could have had a few more good times in the club and, why not, in the French team.

Did you go to live far from the metropolis?

I went to live in Reunion for a year and I’m in Toulouse at the moment. I have an apartment here, I found a job that I’m leaving in a month and then I’ll move on to my new, and hopefully last, project in the Gers.

What is this new project?

For now, I’m searching. I have a few leads, I’m looking at opportunities, whether in rugby or in sectors that I like, like agriculture or construction. It goes a bit in all directions but I prefer to take the time to finally be able to throw myself 100% into a long-term project.

You had experience as an air firefighter…

Yes, when I returned from the Reunion. It was a brief stint after my adventure abroad. I had joined the army to be an air firefighter on the Mont-de-Marsan base but, when my ex-partner returned from Reunion with my son, she found an interesting job in Toulouse and I had a foothold here. So I decided to leave the army to settle there.

You were also interested in physical preparation…

Yes of course. It was my very first career change at Stade Rochelais. Afterwards, I made the choice to go abroad so I stopped that. But I miss the rugby world. Why not coach, help out in a club… I’m open to anything.

When did you think about your career change? During your injury or after the announcement of your end of career?

Once I stopped my career. I didn’t want to think about it before because I was focused on a potential recovery. Stade Rochelais offered me a career change but it was complicated to stay at the club, to stay among the same guys with whom I played without actually playing, to be part of the team without really being part of it… The situation was complicated. I couldn’t manage it so I preferred to cut it and go to the other side of the world thinking that it would do me good. In the end, not really. I think I needed and still need time.

Failed to manage? That’s to say ? How do you judge the environment around you in these moments?

They tried to help me. But I think it was me who closed myself off. Afterwards, on the subject of mental health, when I stopped, we talked about it less than now. It wasn’t madness… Seeing a psychologist wasn’t yet democratized. It still isn’t really true now, but it wasn’t true at all at the time. Yes, I was sent to see someone. But this person was not a sports psychologist. I saw it once, I said to myself, “Oops, it’s not for me, I’ll stop, I’ll figure it out on my own.” Maybe it’s a mistake on my part. Maybe I should have switched to another mental health specialist and that would have allowed me to move forward and save me years. I thought I was going to manage it, that it was going to pass, that I was going to move on to my new professional project… But it’s happening little by little, you don’t realize anything. You start projects that you abort. I had a lot of requests, maybe even too many. I was lost in all of this. I didn’t manage to get through it.

Have people let you down? Did you feel hypocrisy when your career ended?

Yes, we feel it a little. But for me, it’s something that I always had in mind. The people I felt capable of letting me down if one day things didn’t go well, I quickly put them aside. Of course, in this environment, and not just this one, as soon as there is money, media coverage, we find it everywhere. When you’re at the top, everyone is there, everyone supports you, but when it stops working, no one wants to go down with you. I was prepared for this. On the other hand, there are plenty of people from the rugby community who tried to help me, to support me, but it was me. Looking back, I couldn’t get over the hump.

We sense quite a bit of nostalgia in your words… Do you have any regrets?

Yes. It was too short. I’m like, damn, I was complaining all the time when if only I could go back and continue playing with the life I had… We weren’t too bad. I just regret complaining too much and not enjoying it enough. And for not having succeeded in preparing for this post-career which can happen faster than we think. Not having taken advantage of the facilities at the club, the aid from Provale (the National Union of Rugby Players) or the Federation to take diplomas alongside rugby. This is probably my biggest regret.

Do you think your speech can help young players in the future?

I don’t know, I hope! I made a video with Provale to talk about that. I have no advice to give since I am the very example of what not to do. If my story can be used to make certain people understand that we must take advantage and make a profit from everything we can while we are players because we have a lot of help in terms of studies… Above all, stay curious, don’t get locked into the world of rugby where that’s all we do. We don’t have a lot of free time, but when we do, we have to go visit businesses, keep in touch with the outside world and try to prepare for the end.

Do you blame yourself?

Yes, I’m sorry I didn’t think of it before. For not having taken advantage, of not having passed competitions… It’s true that when you play, you say to yourself ”damn, that sucks, I’m exhausted from training” and I understand that. First of all, I know that the most important thing was to perform well on the pitch. That was all that mattered. I told myself that I didn’t want to tire myself out playing rugby, already that I was tired when I played, going to school in the little free time I had… It’s more easier said than done but I think that these are efforts that must be made to be as fulfilled as possible after your career. At 25/40 years old it’s over, and casually there’s still a long way to go.

If we understand correctly, what I’m missing is more than a real, well-defined project?

Yes that’s it. I went so far and wide… I started lots of things without ever finishing them or even starting them. I always had something holding me back. I really want to move forward, to have something serious, to throw myself into it and finally move on to something else.

Are you waiting for the rugby world to reach out to you?

I don’t expect anything (laughs). If it comes it comes; if it doesn’t come it doesn’t come. I will find something that I like and that I will thrive in. It took a lot longer than I thought. Some people are able to turn the page more easily and there are others for whom it is more complicated.

Is rugby something you miss?

Yes, I miss it. It’s crazy because when I was a player I wasn’t a big rugby fan. I didn’t watch the rugby matches, I was one of the only ones who didn’t know any of the names of the guys we were playing against, I didn’t care. I just wanted to play, have balls, have fun and drink beers with my friends afterwards. If you had asked me this question when I was a player: “Will you miss rugby when you stop?” ”, I would have answered: “never! »I didn’t care about the world of rugby. Except now I regret it. I tell myself that it was good and that I miss it.

Now, do you follow rugby?

Yes it happens to me. I watch the matches. I’m not a crazy person on my couch but I like watching, more than when I was playing. It’s strange but I like going to the stadium, I went to see Stade Toulousain, La Rochelle, it did me good. I’m getting to it! People recognized me, I kept links with the La Rochelle supporters. They are incredible, caring people… It’s healthy.

You mention La Rochelle. There, you experienced a true love story…

Completely. I owe them a lot. President Merling, Xavier Garbajosa, Patrice Collazo… These are people who trusted me. I was the little helmeted winger from Albi deemed too frail to one day play at a high level. They made me feel comfortable. I was lucky to arrive at a time when the club was taking a new turn in its history. It’s a wonderful city with great supporters… It was and is my dream club.

Tell us about your first selections…

My first unofficial match was against New Zealand in Lyon, with the France ‘B’ team, it was a great match with great guys, there was a great atmosphere… It remains a great memory. I was lucky enough to score two tries, I had friends and family in the stands, it was incredible to wear this jersey for the first time in my life even though it didn’t count as a real selection . Thanks to this match, it allowed me to experience my first cap for the last match of a November tour against Japan. Well, it was the time when the French team was not functioning as well as now and we had a draw against Japan which was a poor performance, but I had the chance to score a try so It remains a good memory. It was so huge to find myself there, to have left the depths of my little Gers and to find myself there… It will remain incredible memories.

You probably have an anecdote to tell us…

(He thinks) I had done a few little stupid things before this match, extra-sporting, and as I had had a good match, Yannick Bru (former coach of the French XV forwards) congratulated me after the match and told me that I had erased these little escapades (laughs).

Is the match against New Zealand your best memory?

No, not the best. In my entire career, I have plenty. I have some with my Samatan club, and they are perhaps the best. I also have big ones with Albi and in particular Henry Broncan (former coach of the Albigensian club from 2011 to 2015)… I can’t come up with a better moment. My debut in Samatan with my childhood friends, in Albi, my debut with the big club of La Rochelle or my selections… Impossible to choose!

You played at a time when the XV of France was not in great shape. How do you see the current team?

They kept us dreaming for a while though! I really deplore the change of heart of a lot of people who now find it easy to spit on them when there is a little slack. We saw against Wales that they were capable of doing very good things. I think the group and the pool of young French players are incredible. The work done by educators upstream in small and medium-sized clubs is remarkable. Today, we are one of the best nations in the world. You should take advantage.

A prediction for the match against England?

I’m very bad at prognosis (laughs)! We will win, I hope so. It’s going to be tight but I’d say a little 23 to 17…