The old adage you never know which French team will turn up, takes on a whole new meaning this weekend when one will actually fail to turn up at all.
In the eternal soap opera that is French rugby, the last ten days have been dramatic even by their high standards.
Here’s how things unfolded.
Tuesday February 16
The first announcement came from the FFR revealing a positive case of Covid-19 within the staff, the victim has remained anonymous ever since. There was also the suspicious case of Fabien Galthié who passed his test on Monday evening, the day after the victory in Ireland (13-15 ). The head coach was retested on Tuesday morning and tested positive in the afternoon.
Wednesday February 17
Another positive case announced, scrum coach of William Servat, bringing the number of cases within the staff to three. No positive case among the players who were are all authorized to return home with instructions maintain isolation.
Friday February 19
Star scrum half Antoine Dupont, became the first player officially to be infected with Covid-19. The eleven other players results announced that day were negative.
Saturday February 20
Prop Mohamed Haouas and wing Gabin Villière test positive, bringing the number of players affected to three. Assistant coach Karim Ghezal also tests positive.
Sunday February 21
Hooker Julien Marchand and centre Arthur Vincent to be test positive.
Monday February 22
Following the tests carried out the day before in Marcoussis, the list grows to five new players: captain Charles Ollivon, Cyril Baille, Peato Mauvaka, Romain Taofifenua and Brice Dulin.
Baptiste Pesenti tested positive on Monday morning before his arrival at the training base so he could not join the France group. That brought the total to 11 infected players.
Two “suspicious cases” within management were also mentioned. According to my sources, one of the two has since tested positive.
Tuesday February 23
No new cases reported.
Wednesday February 24
No new positive Covid cases, collective contact training resumes and the France v Scotland match get the go ahead.
Thursday February 25
A positive player case is revealed, the twelfth, despite the player not being named it is common knows that the victim was Uini Antonio, making him the seventeenth person in the France group to test positive
The entire France group is once again placed in isolation. The game against Scotland is postponed indefinitely.
The Fall Out
The Ministry of Sport has asked the FFR to conduct an internal investigation and requires answers by next week.
At a Press conference, Prime Minister Jean Castex was asked if sanctions could be taken against France rugby’s management.
“Before we talk about sanctions, we still need to know exactly what happened. I think the players themselves are already being penalised for not being able to play against Scotland on Sunday, and I think they are very unhappy about that”.
A phone call on Monday from Roxana Maracineanu, Minister Delegate in charge of Sports, to Bernard Laporte, President of the FFR, was followed by a formal letter on Wednesday evening to ask him to return within eight days an internal investigation into the implementation and compliance of the Covid protocol validated before the Tournament.
Bernard Laporte declared “The first one who will conduct an investigation and who wants to know the truth, it is indeed me! ”
“As far as I know, there is no fault in the team,
It is unclear how this investigation will proceed and whether the findings be made public or reserved for the ministry.
With the French Federation likely to be judge and jury how credible can it be ?
Infectious disease specialist Éric Caumes claimed to know the origin of the infection: “The Blues applied the procedure exactly as it should but, unfortunately, there is a player who slipped between the cracks that is to say a guy who had a negative PCR test but who was in the incubation period he is a rugby sevens player.
“What was decided is that people only fit in bubbles if they have tested negative, but the problem is, if they are in incubation, they can test negative and be positive 48 hours later. This is what happened and this is how the virus entered the bubble. ”
However there is also a suspicion that the source of Fabien Galthié himself. L’Equipe reported that the coach has, violated the Covid protocols before the match in Ireland .
Bernard Laporte has dismissed this theory defending his friend and coach tooth and nail without waiting for the conclusions of the investigation: “Fabien told me that he respected the protocol and I believe it. For me, there is no fault. If the report says people have failed, sanctions will have to be taken, for sure. Which ones? Could Fabien Galthié’s post be threatened? ” Of course not ! ”
The Minister for Sports, Roxana Maracineanu, has increased the pressure stating who Bernard Laporte himself came to see us before the Tournament to present the protocol to us and tell us that everything was going to be fine, that the bubble was going to be strictly respected with entries and controlled exits. Now that we see that this is not the case, I am waiting for him to come and explain to us what it has been,”the minister said.
When asked about possible sanctions, she was very explicit: “If nothing ever happens, if we don’t look for this chain of contamination and we don’t explain how it could have happened, then the authorisation that has been given to play the Six Nations Tournament may be withdrawn.
The Ministry of Sports, after having requested additional guarantees from the FFR in January, gave the green light it, on February 2, to participate in the Six Nations Tournament, and in particular to travel abroad to Italy, Ireland, England.
Maracineanu a former top swimmer was surprised at some of the France squad behaviors: “I don’t think it was marked in the protocol that players could go out to eat waffles (as happened in Rome after the Italy v France match on February 6, or else, if they go out to eat waffles, they had to be retested when they re-entered the bubble in contact with others. We want to know if it has been done because it is the conditions of entry and exit in the bubble that make it a bubble, by definition. ”
The source “Patient zero” has changed three times, quipped Minster Roxana Maracineanu, and I await the full report with interest from the person who presented the health protocol to me before the Tournament (Laporte).
So this coming week could be an interesting one for the French national team and everyone involved, Bernard Laporte has not earned the nickname “Teflon” for nothing but Roxana Maracineanu is no pushover, watch this space.