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Thomas Lombard: “Leaving in the middle of the season was Gaël Fickou’s choice”

The CEO of Stade Français Paris spoke at length to Figaro before the jump-off against Racing 92 on Friday night. The spectacular recovery of the club, its emotional and irrational side, the derby, the Fickou affair. The former player, four times crowned with the Stadium, did not evade anything.

Le Figaro. By winning their last six matches, Stade Français has snatched the 6e place synonymous with dam. Have you always believed in this comeback?
Thomas Lombard: No (smile). It would be very pretentious of me. We have been inconstant this season. And when we managed to find a period of confidence, we finally succeeded in continuing. We had already had a very positive streak from mid-October to the end of November, with four consecutive victories at home against Toulouse, La Rochelle, Bordeaux and Toulon. What allowed us to secure the classification. We then got our internationals back. And, while we thought it would be easier, we conversely experienced a small area of ​​turbulence. And then, as is often the case in this club, when everyone thought we had a knee on the ground, we found a second wind after the loss against Clermont. We then continue these six victories, which had not happened for a long time in this club.

Who do you attribute this burst to? To Gonzalo Quesada, to the pride of the players?
Sometimes the difference between success and failure is very small. It is difficult to explain rationally. With great care, there are extra-sporting things that have undoubtedly played out (the departure of Fickou, Editor’s note). But, above all, the team never broke up. And, well, maybe, with what happened the previous seasons, when we were looking down rather, guys were like “no, we don’t want to relive this, we can’t waste our potential. without getting the best out of it ”. With obviously all the work of the club and the staff. It’s a whole set to consider.

We must be proud of what we have done this season. But it should only be a step in our recovery

Whatever happens on Friday night, is the season balance already satisfactory?
It depends on the perspective you take. If it is short, when you are last when the championship is stopped in 2020 and, fourteen months later, you find yourself barragist, yes you can tell yourself that this season is satisfactory. If we take a higher perspective, the ambition of the club, its history and the pedigrees of the players, you are less surprised. That does not prevent us from being proud of what we have done. But it should only be a step in our recovery …

It is satisfactory but not it should not be satisfied?
Exactly. We can achieve even more beautiful things. The culture of winning at the Stade Français is important. I say this with a lot of modesty, because I know that we haven’t won much in recent years. But that’s not why we shouldn’t have ambition. It must remain intact.

We like to reassure ourselves by telling ourselves that the trajectories at the Stade Français are often irrational

In what state of mind is the Stade Français approaching this jump-off?
With much, much humility. We have had a just-in-time workforce for six matches, with a lot of injured people who are JIFFs, which complicates the task of the staff, the rotation. But we also go there with a lot of calm and desire. It’s been five years since we tasted the finals. There are boys who play their last matches at this club. There is an emotional and emotional context that gives us a little extra soul. But we know, we don’t forget, who we have in front of us.

»READ ALSO – Stade Français: giant screen to Jean-Bouin for the jump-off against Racing

This emotional side generally works well at Stade Français …
Yes, it’s true. We also like to reassure ourselves by telling ourselves that the trajectories at the Stade Français are often irrational. We often bring back what we are experiencing today to what we have experienced in the past. Of the four titles that I won as a player with Stade Français, there are at least two that we went for with incredible qualifications, victories in the last minutes. It sticks to the history of the club. Now, just because it happened like that five, ten, twenty years ago, doesn’t mean it’s going to happen the same way again this year. Pro rugby has really evolved, it now demands a number of requirements and boxes to be filled in order to be competitive. It is today a lot of rationality anyway (smile).

Among the supporters, these memories, this enthusiasm linked to this past, immediately reappear …
That is true. And you can feel it. This is what is extraordinary about this club. If there are many people who like to speak badly about us, there are also many who speak well. Our winning streak has generated a wave of sympathy. I have received a lot of messages in this direction. It shows that Stade Français remains a club that matters, that has marked people.

There is, on both sides, a thirst for victories, for domination over the rival. The supremacy of the Ile-de-France region is at stake

It’s a dam, but also a derby. Is this notion also important?
Of course ! At the beginning, when Racing recovered, we fed this notion of derby a little artificially. Because these are matches that rugby needs. But now it’s a real derby. With two pilots, two extremely ambitious business leaders at the head of the two clubs, we have a real rivalry. Which will last over time. With both sides, a thirst for victories, for domination over the rival. It is the supremacy of the Ile-de-France region. And, more generally, on the Top 14. Without forgetting the episode of the aborted merger which added salt to this match …

»READ ALSO – Antoine Burban: “I could never have worn the Racing jersey”

Without however reaching the overflowing passion of a Biarritz-Bayonne …
Passion is secular in the Basque Country. Here, it’s cooler. And then there is not this general conflagration around the two clubs. It is the ecosystem of the capital. This derby only ignites the supporters, not the cities.

There is also no play of small sentences to ignite the derby.
We are not there yet. We are not ready to reach such degrees of ingenuity and passion (laughs). But each derby has its own environment. Ours is undoubtedly more flexible in the week preceding the match but, on the pitch, the intensity will be equivalent.

On the spectator side, Racing, as the host club, has an advantage with more than 4,000 of the 5,000 places. Will this public return weigh?
We received less than 700 places. The League has set a minimum of 15% of places that must be granted to the visiting club. Racing applied this rule very precisely (smile). But it will also be a source of motivation for our players …

We had agreed for Gaël Fickou to leave at the end of the season. He wished to anticipate his departure

Like the presence, in the ranks of Racing, of Gaël Fickou, which crystallizes a lot of resentment among Parisian supporters?
The choice to leave in the middle of the season was his choice. It was Gaël who issued it. We had agreed for him to leave at the end of the season. He wished to anticipate his departure. And I’m not in the habit of holding a player against their will. There was a gentleman’s agreement that he wouldn’t go into the regular season derby right after he left. There was no question of forbidding him to play another one. There will be an emotional load that some of our players will have to deal with. Just like Gaël elsewhere. But there is nothing more to say than that.

Don’t you mind he’s on the team across the way Friday night?
No. Truly not. If it had been a problem for Gaël to leave the club, he would still be here.

But some of your players took badly the fact that some say that the team was going to be diminished without Fickou and seem to have been keen to demonstrate it since …
Summarizing the performance of a rugby team to one player is not in our education, our philosophy. We know that there are X factors in a team. We have some. There are also in Racing and that’s it. Afterwards, if it’s a source of motivation for my players, so much the better. But I’m not sure they need to go get this. The context of the match, the time of the season, the stakes are enough in my opinion to motivate them.

Antoine Burban (hit in the face) and Jonathan Danty (shoulder) will they hold their place against Racing?
With the injuries and the lack of rotation, the boys are physically damaged. We do an ultra-light week of work, based on recovery, so that they arrive with freshness and energy on Friday evening. But, this moment of the season, with the smell of the final stages not felt for a long time, brings a faster recovery capacity, a more increased enthusiasm. The staff, and the players, are doing everything to be on the pitch, so that we present the best possible team on Friday night.


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