Stade Toulousain welcomes Union Bordeaux-Bègles this Saturday (4 p.m.) for a place in the Champions Cup final. A duel is obviously closely scrutinized: that between the two forerunners of the XV of France, Romain Ntamack and Matthieu Jalibert. Former opening half of Colomiers, Stade Français, Toulouse and Clermont, David Skrela (23 caps) has an expert eye on this confrontation. According to him, there are many similarities between Toulouse and Bordeaux. And French rugby should be delighted to have these two players, an almost unique duo in the world.
David Skrela, the world of rugby does not generally appreciate that we summarize a match to a duel between two players. Even if they are dependent on the collective, will the one between Romain Ntamack and Matthieu Jalibert count this Saturday during Toulouse-UBB?
Yes, because already, they are both goalscorers. And in recent months, they have been regular: in important matches, they score. When we see Matthieu Jalibert facing Racing in the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup, on the last penalty… You still have to have the guts to put it on. And Romain for example made a great match in Munster and also investigates against Clermont. That, success on penalties, is still one of the keys to the game. So it’s true that they are also dependent on the team, especially the forwards. It’s going to be where it’s going to play out. And the Stadium, at the moment… They say that they are playing well but in front, it is strong, it progresses. When it’s like that, it’s still easier to play rugby. So the key to the game will be there: how the balls are going to come out and how they are going to be able to use them. Because afterwards, they both have the ability to attack the line well, to make the others play well.
We tend to see Ntamack more “cold” in the game and Jalibert more “playful”. This is not the case ?
I think they have pretty similar profiles. They like to attack the line, carry the ball. They are good scorers. I think in fact, in my opinion, they have a lot of similarities. They are carried on the offensive, can play in several positions, as center for Ntamack and back for Jalibert. They are versatile. So to me, they look a lot alike. So much the better anyway, especially for the prospect of the France team. Because there is one that will start and the other will take over. Because even if there is the little Carbonel who is not far behind, I think he is still a little young and not yet at the level of both. So they should both be either substitute or start. It still brings added value to the team.
Can you tell us what marks you about both? A quality ?
What strikes me about both of them is that they are able to handle games at their age. Because they are 22, 23 years old (22 years old for Jalibert, an age that Ntamack will reach… this Saturday, editor’s note), but they have the experience of 30-year-old guys. So that’s still impressive (his eyes widen)! Me, who played in the 2000s, so it was perhaps not the same rugby and they are surely better prepared than us, but they are able to raise their heads, to manage the important moments of the match… Against Racing , Matthieu Jalibert finds a magnificent diagonal at the foot to make his team breathe when he leads. And Romain, it’s the same. They are able to accelerate and decelerate when it is necessary, when they are a little in difficulty, when it is necessary to manage the match. So that is still impressive. They are really very mature for their age. And above all, they take the pressure too! As soon as you have to put the dots, they put them, whereas often when you are young, you are a little crazy-crazy.
“At their age I was a student, it was not the same life!”
Didn’t you have the same confidence as them at their age?
(Categorical) Oh no. Honestly, no. To see them play, at their age… They have already had important matches with their clubs, with which they play regularly, an Under-20 World Cup. It’s true that they have this ability to be cold when needed, to feel the blows, to be very good scorers, even in important games. So it’s still impressive.
Do you remember your performances back then?
Yes. Me, I had ups and downs in fact. We are a little carefree at that age. So when it rolled, you could walk on water. I wasn’t thinking too much at the time, I was just playing on instinct. So sometimes when it didn’t work, maybe it was a bit complicated. They seem more thoughtful about their game. I feel like it’s their routine. I was a student too, it wasn’t the same life (he laughs)! They only play rugby, they are perhaps more programmed than us at the time. I was a pro at 23, 24, they were long before. It’s not the same rugby, we can’t compare, but frankly, in my case because I don’t know what other people of my generation think about it, I think they are better prepared than us to play at that level.
Has the hierarchy changed somewhat in the France team between the two?
It is true that a year ago, at the end of the 2019 World Cup, we saw Romain launched for a few years at the head of the France team. But afterwards, he got injured and it was Matthieu who took over during the Six Nations Tournament. And he did quite a good Tournament anyway! He played rather convincing matches. It rebalanced things a bit. It’s pretty good, it brings emulation, competition and it can only make them progress, even if they are already at an interesting level. So if they continue to progress like that, it will be beneficial for their clubs, already, and for the France team of course.
“Fabien Galthié will follow this closely in front of his TV”
This match, precisely, can it count for the rest of the French team? Are these important moments?
(Sighs) Yeah, sure. Afterwards, as I said, we depend on his team, on how they approach the game. So the Bordelais are not in easy conditions since they have not played for three weeks. So it may be complicated for them. While the Stade Toulousain is rather in a good phase. It is sure that after the confrontations, it plays. When Fabien Galthié is going to be in front of his TV, he will watch it closely. But it is one criterion among many others. There is also the experience they had during the Tournament, during the tour, during the 2019 World Cup, even though Jalibert did not participate. The more we go to the French team, the more good matches we play, the more credit we obviously take. But hey, given the journey they have had for a few years, they are off to a good start to stay there for a while.
French rugby should above all be delighted to have these two players?
Frankly, they are players of very high international level. After that, I don’t know if they are top world players yet, but it might become. When we see them playing at the international level, they already make the differences. So it’s still a chance for the France team. Afterwards, there are other young players, I think of little Carbonel. But as long as these two are there, it will be complicated. Even if a career is long, there are injuries, they are still on the upswing. They progress, they improve from season to season. So if they continue like this, it announces good days for the France team.
Do you see another nation that has such a duo?
There are Farrell and Ford in England. But today, aren’t Ntamack and Jalibert stronger than them? I think so. If, afterwards, there are Mo’unga and Barrett in New Zealand, it’s not bad all the same (smile)! Apart from these two New Zealanders, behind… The Sud’Af ‘, they are world champions, but behind Pollard, there is Jantjies? Is it that good? There are, but it can be counted on the fingers of one hand. So it’s a great chance for us, hoping that they will be at this level as long as possible.