Twickenham holds special memories for Ibanez
FOR MOST modern-day France players and coaches, Twickenham is a place of defeats and ordeals, ghosts and scars. But it is not like that for Raphael Ibanez.
The gallic team manager has a very different view about the home of English rugby — a venue where he enjoyed some of his greatest days as a player. He won a Heineken Cup there with Wasps in 2007 and a Premiership title the following year. Back in 1999, he led the French side who beat the all Blacks in an epic World Cup semi-final at Twickenham. Ibanez (right) was also captain the last time France beat England in south west london, in a warm-up game ahead of the 2007 World Cup.
It is now 18 years since France have won ‘le Crunch’ away from home in the six nations, so their manager — along with head coach Fabien galthie — will have a key role in helping them overcome a mental barrier today.
‘I feel very lucky to have played a lot of times at Twickenham and won a few big games there,’ he told Sportsmail. ‘I love it. Usually, players remember stadiums where they win games.
They tend to forget places where they lost. so I love that place. ‘They say that Twickenham is the home of rugby, so when you play there it is about more than just playing England. I had that feeling after my first game that I could say humbly that I played a small part in rugby history. ‘For me, it’s a special story because my first game as captain was against England in 1998.’
For all his peaks at Twickenham, he didn’t win a six nations game there in five attempts. France have only won once there in the six nations era, 18-17 in 2005.
Ibanez explained that their national team declined as the players lost the appetite to be involved in a failing environment. He and galthie set about altering that mindset and it worked, as France claimed a grand slam last year. ‘England have a special ability when they play at Twickenham — and for a lot of years, France didn’t make the changes needed to beat England at Twickenham,’ he added. ‘One of the reasons we were told before we took over was that some key players in the last 10 years weren’t very keen on playing for France any more because they didn’t want to be part of a losing team. It really hurt me to hear that. ‘We wanted to change that. now we are very focused on a team culture and the identity of the team.’