Fans of the ball with capricious rebounds have finished moping over the unworthy performances of the All Blacks in the Rugby Championship, or the stammering In Extenso Supersevens. The Top 14 resumes this weekend, with (as often) the Stade Toulousain headlining the match on Sunday evening, on the lawn of Union Bordeaux-Bègles. After a more than perfect 2020-2021 financial year, crowned by a double, the road to the Rouge et Noir stopped at the door of the finals in the spring, in the league and in the European Cup. For the international opener Romain Ntamack (23 years old, 28 selections) as for his comrades, it is time to get rid of this feeling of incompleteness.
Looking back, what taste does this last season leave you with two semi-finals, but without a title?
Much disappointment, therefore. But I think everyone has moved on. The resumption of training, we worked a lot on what had not worked. We also learned a lot, not everything is to be thrown away.
What had gone wrong?
A sum of small details prevented us from repeating the great previous season. Everyone questioned themselves. There were departures and many arrivals which did us good. We found a passion, a desire to play together.
A year ago you had to defend two titles. Now you must try to win them back. What does it change ?
Not much. We always want to win something at the end of the season. Maybe we will be a little less expected, which suits us very well. We work on our side, we don’t make noise.
Recruitment was very French, and very focused behind (Jaminet, Capuozzo, Barassi, Retière, Graou, the Franco-Italian Capuozzo). Was it a sector to revitalize?
Yes, we had to find a little emulation among the three-quarters. There were some, but during certain periods, between injuries and doublings, we were operating at a tight flow. Great players and good guys have arrived, it’s a breath of fresh air.
Speaking of freshness. Did you feel that at the end of the season, you paid for your Grand Slam in the French team where Toulouse is very well represented?
We paid for it all season, not just with the Six Nations Tournament. Most of the internationals at Stade Toulousain have had a lot going on. We played between 30 and 33 games over the year. When you play at a high level every weekend, in the end, there’s a little “lack”, even if it’s not the only one we missed. Once again, having a slightly larger group this year will make it possible to rotate, to be able to breathe and to regenerate the bodies.
While in pro rugby, a lot of players are on the move, you extended your contract until 2028. Did you think a lot before accepting such a long lease?
No way. It happened very quickly and very naturally. I just wanted to continue with my club. I’ve always played here and couldn’t see myself anywhere else. Stade Toulousain did everything for me to stay and I did everything to stay. I am very happy to have extended for a long time and I hope to continue on the consequence of my early career in Toulouse (two Shields of Brennus and a European Cup).
The World Cup in France is approaching (from September 8 to October 28, 2023). It is the big meeting in the career of a player. How do I make sure it doesn’t take up too much space?
The best way to participate in a World Cup is to perform in a club. We must not put more pressure on ourselves than that but continue as we have done for the last three seasons to have a good last year, in order to garner maximum confidence.
You present yourself in the shoes of a holder in Blue?
No. I feel like a potential player for the France team. The coach will make his choices. But as always, I don’t ask myself any questions.
Does the duel that has arisen with Matthieu Jalibert weigh on you?
Not at all. At no time do I feel in competition with him, but rather with all the other French openers. On a very good generation in this position. We have to stop comparing ourselves and take advantage of all these players. Before, we complained that there wasn’t enough and now there would be too much, and we tried to make them fight against each other. Whoever the coach chooses will play. The others are fighting to get the best out of themselves and for the France team.
Your beginnings, Since you are publicized. Did you feel that a milestone had yet been reached last season, especially after the victory against the Blacks and your famous in-goal relaunch?
The cap was especially crossed with the good results of the French team. For a while there was a lot of negative media coverage surrounding the Blues. Now, we find a lot of enthusiasm. The good results of our club also mean that we are more exposed than others. It’s always gratifying to be acclaimed, but don’t get too excited because you can quickly come down.
Are there people to warn you if this was not the case?
I have a benevolent, very humble entourage, but who don’t need to bring me down because I’m not someone who takes themselves for another. Afterwards, why, everyone reads everything that is said. Anyone who says otherwise is not true. When there are positive things, it’s good, when it’s negative, don’t hold it against them. It’s part of our daily life, that’s how it is.
Arriving in the shoes of a favorite in 2023, isn’t that a problem for you and the XV of France?
We are far from being favorites given the qualities of the other teams. There are so many who can win this World Cup… To say that we are preferred because we have won 10 matches would be to exaggerate us a little. There is one last year left. As long as we have bad results, we will be told that in the end, we are not such favorites… We have to focus on this last year, achieve results, garner a lot of confidence to arrive as ready and as more serene at the World Cup.
After your father Emile and you, there is a new Ntamack rising. Théo (20-year-old third center line) extended at the same time as you in Toulouse. Do you give him advice?
No. I just try to give him a lot of freedom, so he doesn’t always get drunk having the big brother behind his back telling him what to do or not. He doesn’t worry, it doesn’t matter if his brother or his father have a good career, he doesn’t care and that’s fine. He performed very well with the U20s, especially during the VI Nations tournament. I don’t worry about him. He evolves to a position where he is very well surrounded with Jerome Kaino (now coach), and “Sele” Tolofua who takes him under his wing. It will grow little by little and start to point the tip of its nose this year. I hope to play with him under the colors of the Stadium.
To conclude, what would a successful season be like for Stade Toulousain?
It sucks but it would be winning the Top 14 and the European Cup again. In Toulouse, we are not satisfied with two semi-finals. If there is not at least one title to the key, we are a little disappointed. That said, all teams are gearing up for something moderate at the end of the season.