Freddie Michalak has reflected on the hysteria that accompanied his career, especially the early years after he made the breakthrough on the France team just a month after his 19th birthday. Now 37, the maverick out-half wound down his career at Lyon in recent years where he lives with his young family, a cosy existence very different from the limelight he endured during his formative years in professional rugby.

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In an interview with Midi Olympique, Michalak, who won the last of his 77 France caps in 2015, reflected on ‘Michalakmania’, saying: “You have no control over what happens to you. Nothing! Especially during the 2003 World Cup, I was not ready for all the extras. 

“I had physically prepared for a sports deadline, but not carried out media training, communication courses or social networks. Like all athletes, I have been at the mercy of praise and criticism. The veterans warned me. But as long as you don’t live it… 

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The Burns brothers, Freddie and Billy, go head to head in the RugbyPass Cabin Fever Quiz

“I tried to always refocus on the field, my club and seek to win titles, I quickly perceived that the important thing was what was happening on the pitch. It’s all very well to do two or three ‘stories’ and become an influencer like it’s fashionable, but these people I don’t see anymore on rugby fields. No, personally I have always favoured rugby.

“I felt like I was a key player because I played in key positions, but not that I had the fate of games on my shoulders. Sometimes I found that it was forgotten that I was just a man, that I could never repeat some of my performances. Humans have their weaknesses and fears, they can have things that are difficult to manage in their private life and, inevitably, that affects their performances.”

Antoine Dupont is one of a new breed of stars to emerge in French rugby in recent years, the scrum-half making a Test debut at the age of 20 and going on to earn 24 caps by the age of 23. Michalak is a fan but he worries that the over-emphasis on club rugby in France at the expense of the national team could shorten careers. 

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“He’s a young player with huge potential, but he must do Dupont. I like the spontaneity that he exudes on the field. He breathes the fact of being happy to play rugby. It remains to be seen how he and all the other young people will evolve over the long term. 

“With the current trends, the physical contacts which have evolved compared to my time, will they last at the highest level? Will careers be shorter? I have the impression that they start to hurt themselves much younger than us… shouldn’t we protect them? Surely, yes. We know that they have a great talent, but they most often express it in a club and not in the French team. This is the current logic of our rugby.”

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