The French XV concludes its 2024 Six Nations Tournament on Saturday against England (9:00 p.m.) in Lyon. A city which saw the birth of Pascal Papé, 43 years old and 65 caps with the Blues between 2004 and 2015. The former captain returned to his homeland in 2021 to occupy the position of sports director then general manager in his training club, CS Bourgoin-Jallieu (3rd division).

With his usual frankness, he evokes for Le Figaro his best memories during the Crunches and analyzes the difficulties of the French team at the start of 2024.

LE FIGARO. – The French XV had difficulty entering this first post-World Cup Six Nations Tournament, which ends on Saturday with the Crunch. How do you analyze it? Pascal PAPÉ. – There was such fervor around this generation that losing in the quarterfinals (against South Africa, editor’s note) was a monstrous failure. This match was perhaps the final before its time and so far the World Cup was very nice. But it remains a failure. It was the worst that could happen to us: losing in the first knockout match. For four years, we were trained to win, we won a Tournament (the Grand Slam in 2022, editor’s note), we have exceptional players. When you have a resounding failure like this World Cup in France, you have to mourn it. It sounds stupid, said like that. This word is serious. But we must mourn. You have to analyze, diagnose, hold work meetings with your group. “Why did we lose?”, “How did we lose?”, “What are we going to do now to win the next World Cup?”, It’s very important to close the wound by debriefing, it is a proof of strength. It is not necessary to smoke.

The smoke is the speeches of Fabien Galthié? Was the diagnosis sufficient in your opinion? Where Fabien was a little wrong at the start was when he gave his debrief to the press. He did it for the press, it was external. But before the external, it is the internal that must be treated, it is with your team that you have to make the diagnosis. This is the most important thing to get off to a good start. For the mental health of your 30 guys, you have to start with something concrete. When you are a competitor, such failure can affect you beyond performance, it can affect you mentally too.

Did the Blues reassure you by winning in Wales? They played a very good match, it’s working well again. But be careful, Wales is 20% of the way through its reconstruction. No wonder you set a record by winning there. But at least you showed character after the failure against Italy.

And against Ireland…Yes, but even having digested the failure of the World Cup, I don’t know if they would have won against Ireland. I was objective and cool with them after this defeat. I don’t spit on the XV of France. I wore the jersey and it was annoying to hear the elders criticize when a year before they were still with us.

You who have often spoken about mental health in rugby, how did you manage to bounce back after your two World Cups, in 2011 and 2015? In 2011, the World Cup was still successful because we went to the final. We lost by one point (8-7 against New Zealand), even if the journey was not easy. I have the feeling that we made the French very proud and, when we came back, there was a lot of excitement around us. When I joined the club, I was even more motivated, I had taken on another status. I digested very well. That of 2015, we took a beating in the quarter-final against the All Blacks (62-13). But I had announced that I was stopping the French team after the World Cup, so it was over for me regardless of the result. I told myself that I had 2-3 years left at Stade Français and that I was going to have fun. I had already switched to another state of mind, I wanted to work hard and finish my career well. I didn’t have to mourn a World Cup.

As a former second row, how did you find Emmanuel Meafou’s first selection? He is really cut out for the international level. I was sure of it, but what’s more, he has an atypical profile. He’s big, he moves well, he’s capable of making a lot of plays after him. He goes quickly, casually. He is mobile. It’s a bit the same profile as La Rochelle’s Australian second-row, Will Skelton. You have three in the world, ones like that. We’re lucky to have one, it’s great. Now, when you have a second line like that – and this is where the word “team” takes on its full meaning – you are obliged to have a Flament so that Meafou can shine. The balance is just incredible. On the one hand you have Flamant which is a sort of “breaking” second line as Marc Liévremont said of Fulgence Ouedraogo at the time. That is to say a guy capable of supporting a center after a breakthrough. Flament is a decathlete, he covers all the rest of the ground. He jumps into touch, he is very good with the ball, he is constantly active. This allows Meafou to do big cleanups, carry the ball hard, weigh on the defense, break mauls.

What is your world reference in the second row? The Englishman Maro Itoje, who challenges the Blues on Saturday in Lyon? People will find me a little crazy, but Flament is not far from being my reference. Really. What does he have to envy of Itoje? And I find him even better in the selection than in Toulouse. It is designed for the international market.

Your best memory in a Crunch? It’s France-England in the “final” of the 2004 Tournament. The winner won the competition, and we could also make the Grand Slam. Opposite, it was the world champion team in 2003. It was only my fifth selection, I had played all the starting matches in this Tournament. First Tournament, first Grand Slam. We won 24-21 in front of a euphoric Stade de France, and behind us we had a great party. My whole family was up. I didn’t sleep all night, I went home the next day and took the train again. It was exceptional.

The worst part? I don’t have one. I had so much fun trying to beat them up every time I played against them (laughs)… It was always great to face them, it’s the “derby” of the northern hemisphere.