It was a night of triumph for Toulon on Monday at the 11th edition of the ‘Nuit du Rugby’, the annual awards ceremony honouring French rugby’s standout performers. Matt Giteau was crowned Player of the Year for the 2013-14 season, Bernard Laporte, Pierre Mignoni and Jacques Delmas were named best coaches, and there was a special gong for Jonny Wilkinson – a sort of ‘Lifetime Achievement’ award.
One of the few titles to elude Toulon was the ‘Revelation of the Season’, awarded to the up-and-coming French player in the Top 14 adjudged to have burst onto the scene in blistering fashion. That went to Castres’ 24-year-old centre Rémi Lamerat, a personable young man who lists Nelson Mandela as his hero, likes the music of Sting and has a deep interest in current affairs.
Brought up in the village of Sainte-Foy la Grande in south-western France, Lamerat joined Toulouse as a teenager and then moved to Castres at the end of the 2010-11 season. It took him a couple of seasons to nail down a first-team spot but he started 23 of Castres’ 29 league matches last season, including the Top 14 final against Toulon. A week later Lamerat – more of a Bastareaud than a Fickou in style – made his debut off the bench for France against Australia. It wasn’t a match that will linger long in his memory. France were hammered 50-23, and Lamerat also had the misfortune to appear as a substitute in the two Tests that followed as the tourists slumped to a 3-0 series whitewash.
It was a hell of an initiation into Test rugby but one that Lamerat seems to have passed; he was named last month in Philippe Saint-Andre’s 30-man squad for the November Tests against Australia, Argentina and Fiji so, who knows, he might yet experience a winning feeling in a French jersey.
What Lamerat will be hoping as he finds space for his ‘Revelation of the Season’ trophy on the mantelpiece is that he doesn’t experience the same dip in fortunes as most of his predecessors. A poisoned chalice? That would be going too far but a scroll back through the list of former ‘Revelation’ leaves one wondering where it all went wrong for some.
Yannick Nyanga was the first recipient in 2004. Then a 20-year-old at Beziers, the spring-heeled flanker made his Test debut that same year and for the next three years was a regular fixture in the France back-row. Then Marc Lievremont replaced Bernard Laporte as coach and Nyanga was dumped, cast out into the international wilderness for five years until recalled by Saint-Andre in 2012.
Florian Fritz, the 2005 ‘Revelation’ was another who fell foul of Livremont’s wacky selection whims. First capped in 2005, the Toulouse centre made only four starts under Lievremont before being brought back into the fold by Saint-Andre.
Bordeaux fly-half Lionel Beauxis won the award in 2006, and the following year made 12 appearances for France. In the seven years since he’s collected just eight more caps, the last of them coming in the 2012 Six Nations.
Stade Francais flanker Antoine Burban was the 2007 recipient but to date has failed to transfer his club form to the Test arena, winning just three caps from the bench. Maxime Medard won the award in 2008 and in the three years that followed threatened to become a world-class talent. But the Toulouse full-back-cum-wing has stalled in the last couple of seasons, a victim of the conservative coaching that runs through both his club and his national team.
Marc Andreu, the 2010 winner (the category wasn’t awarded in 2009), was always going to find the transition from club to Test rugby a challenge. At 5ft 5in and 12 stone, the Racing Metro winger with seven caps to his name is unlikely to be seen again for France.
Jean-Marc Doussain, the Toulouse scrum-half who won the award in 2011, might also struggle to add to his 10 caps given his problems in last season’s Six Nations, but not so the 2012 recipient Brice Dulin who is in fact the only ‘Revelation’ named in the squad for next month’s trio of Tests. The Racing Metro full-back was succeeded in 2013 by Toulouse centre Gael Fickou but his form has been patchy of late although few doubt that the 20-year-old will be back in blue before long.
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As for Lamerat, we’ll have to wait a few seasons to discover if the latest ‘Revelation’ blossoms into a sensation or if his career peters out in frustration.
Read how Carl Hayman rates Toulon’s chances of a European hat-trick in the November issue of Rugby World – out now! Click here for all the latest deals, or find out how to download the digital edition here.