Rassie and Galthié’s paths cross again, this time in enormous World Cup quarterfinal clash

13 October 2023 - 14:00 By LIAM DEL CARME IN PARIS
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SA Rugby director of rugby Rassie Erasmus.
SA Rugby director of rugby Rassie Erasmus.
Image: Steve Haag Sports/INPHO/Shutterstock

Fabien Galthié left quite an impression on Rassie Erasmus when their off-the-field paths crossed half a dozen or so years ago. 

Erasmus was director of rugby at Munster when Galthié dropped in for a week and a half in Limerick to pick up what he could about their ways and methods while also having a meeting of minds and an exchange of ideas and so on. 

Galthié, now France's head coach, has come a long way since then.  

Galthié as you will soon gather, is forever fact-finding. It has helped him transform France's fortunes from a team everyone is happy to watch throw the ball around, and then see lose, to a team that demands to be taken seriously.  

It would be gross cultural faux pas to compare France to what the West Indies are in cricket. 

France had a poor Six Nations in 2019, and with the Rugby World Cup (RWC) around the corner Galthié was brought in as consultant to Jacques Brunel.  

Galthié, however, was the de facto head coach as the much older Brunel served out his contract. 

After the RWC, Galthié officially got the job and he soon partly became agent provocateur, but mostly agent of change.  

His management skills have at times been questioned, with dressing room dressing downs not uncommon. 

He, however, took France to number one in the world with victories over all the top teams with panache and practicality. 

“He came to Munster and we exchanged ideas,” Erasmus recalled.  

“He stayed with us along with one of his forwards coaches,” he said.

Galthié is a restless soul, always in pursuit of a point of difference.  

As an already established international scrumhalf, he travelled to South Africa in 1995 and joined Hamiltons rugby club in Cape Town.  

In a move some described as borderline treachery, Nick Mallett talked him into joining False Bay and Western Province beckoned, but briefly. 

Ironically it was Galthié, who two years after he was named world player of the year in 2002, replaced Mallett as coach at Stade Francais when their star started to dim. 

“I found him to be a very eccentric person. I remember when we had a normal day with a video session and a field session and lunch at the campus in Limerick at the university and he would be barefoot playing touch rugby with the students," said Erasmus. 

“He'd come back and tell us some very interesting and insightful stuff, the way he looks at the game. I think he is very philosophical about the game.” 

Indeed, Galthié encourages deep thought outside the white lines of the playing surface.  

In the lead-up to their Six Nations Grand Slam winning match against England last year he enlisted the help of a local philosopher Charles Pépin to address the team.  

Pépin demanded to know: “What is a beautiful team?” What is a real team? Is it ultimately nothing more mysterious than a sum of talents? Or is it something more?” 

It is not clear how the French players responded to that but if it were put to the Springboks they might have dutifully produced the now almost choreographed reply about how their actions can help ease the pain of a nation and so on. 

Erasmus nailed it on the head when he explained how Galthié has brought ballast to the French team, not just in terms of their playbook but their emotions. 

“The French can do brilliant things but they were up and down and sometimes very emotional. I think this is a team that is very steady in their emotions. Their emotions control their body language. They can make plans.” 

Bok assistant coach Felix Jones also recalled Galthié's time in Limerick.  

He believes Galthié has made France a far more tight-knit team. 

“There is a real resilience in what he's built in comparison to what had gone on before. 

“It's a very tight group that play for each other. You've never beaten France until the last few moments of the game, the very last play. The depth that has been built,” said Jones. 

Galthié has brought a practicality to France in the same way he now chooses his glasses.  

He goes for thick-rimmed sports glasses he's unlikely to see break. 

The pristine white sneakers with his navy suit suggest he has not completely abandoned style over functionality. 

Erasmus said in Limerick Galthié would sit in all their coaches and players' meetings.  

“I certainly learned a few things from him and I'm not sure he learned anything from us. 

“That's what he's brought to this French team, a matureness. It's not high or low emotions. It's just a steady, brainy, intelligent team.” 

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