We find out more about the Toulouse loosehead who has soared in French prominence
Some props contain multitudes. Traits you might not normally associate with the load-bearing pillars of your set-piece. Just look at Toulouse and France prop Cyril Baille.
As his club team-mate Richie Arnold tells Rugby World: “I agree that Cyril is an awesome player and he’s very solid in the scrum at loosehead. But what sets him apart is what he can do with ball in hand – his passing and footwork in the tight. We joke at training that he thinks he is a back in a prop’s body.
“And the funny thing is you should see the man kick! Drop-kicks, place kicks, spiral torpedoes… The man can do it all. After a captain’s run, usually the kickers are out doing their practice and Cyril is right there. The big fella loves it!”
As he has become a regular for France as well as Toulouse, you may have noticed additional touches around the park. A tip-on pass here, a spin from the base there. According to former Toulouse prop Census Johnston, this was always part of Baille’s game, and stood out even when the Pyrenees native was first cutting his teeth.
There are other unexpected sides. As one contact from the French national set-up tells us, they were taken aback when they first heard Baille sing. He ranges from falsetto to a deeper tone, letting a few notes slip out.
Arnold segues from this call, adding: “I haven’t heard him sing properly in French, only taking the piss singing songs in English. It’s hilarious!”
Of course, you don’t become one of les Bleus’ most important assets in the pack if you’re a pussycat in the tight. As former Leicester and France prop Franck Tournaire said of the 28-year-old recently: “Baille is Christian Califano. He can do it all: he runs, tackles, plays the ball and he’s a machine at scrum time. I’m sure he’s (Califano’s) secret son!”
However, according to former Boks prop Gurthrö Steenkamp, who was at Toulouse long enough to see a full progression, Baille’s rise wasn’t always written in the stars. He needed to make his own interventions through effort.
When he did, Steenkamp says, Baille’s game went up several notches. “He grafted, coming through the ranks. He took my spot in the team! That was great to see, as a youngster, and he’s been very consistent. A modern-day rugby player.
“He’s a very strong scrummager. If he gets under the chest of a tighthead, it’s difficult to move him. He has the ability to be low as well. He is unique. He is capable of resisting. A lot of tightheads will take the looseheads down but Baille has the ability to resist that.
“When he made that switch and started working harder, he reaped the benefits. And he’s a great team guy – we got along really well with him. He was always a very humble guy, even when he started playing for France.”
What stands out there from Steenkamp – who now faces Toulouse as the La Rochelle scrum coach – is the idea of resistance. It tells you that Baille fights like hell in the set-piece. Which makes this next titbit even more astonishing.
Rugby World understands that Baille is celebrated in the French ranks for his ability to go from crushing contraction at the set-piece and ruck, to explosive play like rushing up in defence or taking the ball on, quicker and more consistently than so many other front-five players.
Here’s an example. After a scrum, the team may want players to run to the next phase at three metres per second. Because of the isometric constriction in elite scrums, many front-five players can find it hard to accelerate beyond 1.5m or 1.6m per second.
But not Baille. Again and again after a big scrum, he can hit or be near that 3m threshold. We may completely underestimate how special it is that he can transition so quickly.
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