Sport

RWC 2023

Once lost, France now feel at home at Marseille’s Stade Vélodrome

Once lost, France now feel at home at Marseille’s Stade Vélodrome
France celebrate their try scored by Fabien Galthié against the New Zealand All Blacks in their second Test match played at the Stade Vélodrome in Marseille, 19 November 2000. (Photo: Phil Walter / Getty Images)

Marseille has become an intimidating venue for France since their first rugby Test in the soccer stronghold in 2000.

Marseille’s appearance on the French rugby map is quite recent, but the boiling Stade Vélodrome (called Stade de Marseille for RWC 2023), where Les Bleus face Namibia on Thursday, already has a special place in the team’s hearts.

Head coach Fabien Galthié was on the side that played France’s first Test at the Vélodrome, against New Zealand in 2000, and he had vivid memories from that night of 18 November.

“We were staying in Aix-en-Provence and it was our first time at the Vélodrome. The bus driver could not find the stadium so we arrived half an hour before kickoff,” Galthié told a press conference on Tuesday.

“We got off the bus and it turned out we were in the lobby of the Societe Generale [bank]. The guys there were so happy that we visited them just before the match.

“So, we got back into the bus and got changed inside and we stepped into the dressing room 15 minutes before the game.”

Head coach of France Fabien Galthié during the post-match press conference following the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between France and Uruguay (Los Teros) at Stade Pierre Mauroy on 14 September 2023 in Villeneuve d’Ascq near Lille, France. (Photo: Jean Catuffe / Getty Images)

Read more in Daily Maverick: Rugby World Cup 2023

It was not the ideal pre-Test routine for France, but the Stade Vélodrome crowd gave them a memorable reception and Les Bleus were fired up when the referee blew the whistle.

“We had this idea to just go around the touchline and there was so much passion coming down from the stands, the fans were so close to us that when we briefly went back to the dressing room, we were boiling hot.

“After 15 minutes (11 minutes) we were 17-0 up,” Galthié added.

France ended up winning the Test 42-33.

Since then, the atmosphere has always been above par in Marseille, where France have won 11 of their 13 Tests, the previous one last year when they beat South Africa 30-26.

“Against South Africa, you could not hear anything from 2 metres because of the noise. I can’t wait to play in that arena again,” said France fullback Thomas Ramos. Reuters/DM

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