A Love Letter To Baptiste Serin
The young French scrum-half made his Six Nations debut this weekend, immediately reaffirming everything Lee Calvert loves about French rugby.
France have a very special relationship with their scrum-halves. The only other nation that has come close to having such a relationship was Australia in the George Gregan years, and that was mainly because Gregan was the most French of non-French number nines.
Baptiste Serin could become the most French number nine ever, full stop. He showed in the defeat to England that the future is bright for those of us who like their rugby just a little bit on the insouciant and insane side.
What is it about those Gallic scrum-halves? While every other rugby nation lets the outside half run the show, this is traditionally far too dull for France. They base their game around their scrum half. The successful periods of French rugby history are littered with these petit generals, those mercurial talents who run the show from the base of the scrum – the likes of Philippe Carbonneau, Fabien Galthie, Jean-Baptiste Elissalde, Freddie Michalak and Morgan Parra.
At the same time the men in the ten shirt were utterly forgettable pivots and functional goalkickers: the likes of Thierry Lacroix, Christophe Lamaison and Lionel Beauxis. Told you they were forgettable. As coach, Phillipe Saint Andre tried to mess with this system by moving Freddie Michalak to 10 with comically disastrous consequences and proved without doubt that moving the erratic genius out one channel is folly for the French.
Baptiste Serin, the latest man to inhabit the nine shirt, is 22 years old and plays his rugby for Bordeaux-Begles, the generally characterless club that are seemingly anchored to the middle section of the Top 14 for all eternity.
The man himself could not be more unlike his club: he is arrogant, languid, forceful, stroppy, charming and perhaps most importantly, a spectacularly talented rugby player.
After captaining France U20s, he stepped up to the seniors and showed flashes of his talent in France’s tour of Argentina last summer. He cemented his brilliance with his cameo appearance vs New Zealand in November with an outrageous out-the-back pass to Louis Picamoles for his side’s only try.
At Twickenham on Saturday he trotted onto the field all youthful confidence, willowy frame and quirky haircut and set about calling the tune for the whole time he was on the field. His service was quick and crisp, even when he had to get it away ugly, including using the dive pass (remember them?).
Too many nines seem to get obsessed with form and forget their real job is to get the ball away sharply. Serin doesn’t concern himself with the former and as a result the latter part of his game was outstanding, particularly in the first half. But he is more than simply getting the ball away. He also showed a wonderful awareness of space that is increasingly rare in modern scrum halves; he worked his team around the ruck and park magnificently with a maturity beyond his six caps.
Never once did he look intimidated by the Twickenham atmosphere, and reinforced this general lack of fear and giving a shit by starting not one but two fights. Two! Both with forwards! First he took on back row Tom Wood, a large but overly coiffured man; then he squared up to Dan Cole, a prop with a face so terrifying he looks like he had a paper round in Chernobyl. This second bit of Serin-prompted aggro was the exact point I lost all logical reason in my love for him.
There is much talk this year of the French getting some more France into their game. This was evident in a losing effort vs England and Serin was at the heart of it for the fifty-odd minutes he was amongst it.
The future of rugby the French way appears safe is his young, crafty, punch-happy hands.
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