The Toulouse and France veteran has rediscovered his magic touch after a few rough seasons. A version of this feature first appeared in the April edition of Rugby World
THE EMAIL from former Toulouse and France hero Yannick Nyanga offers a few thoughts, but nestled in there is a significant musing about Maxime Médard. “The comeback to his best is linked to good results for his club.”
Talk to anyone who has worked with or faced Médard at club level and you notice there is a symbiosis there. As Italy and Toulouse hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini sums up: “How he plays shows the Toulouse way. Here they love champagne rugby. He’s the player who shows that the most.
“He has pressure because there are so many good young players here, but that pressure helps him to work hard.”
Team-mates explain that the veteran full-back was re-energised in the last, title-winning season and that the presence of kids like Romain Ntamack, Thomas Ramos and Antoine Dupont has been a major catalyst for this. Médard has won leagues and Heineken Cups. However, the previous two seasons saw a crash in form that the Toulousain just could not stomach. Some of the old guard moved on and many questioned if the Rouge et Noir would ever be as good.
Last season was very different, with Médard blazing a trail. And he is starring for France again, too, although injury intervened early in the Six Nations. Now the 32 year old is featuring in a Rugby World Cup for the second time, having last played in the showcase in 2011.
“He is a very instinctive player,” Zack Holmes says of his Toulouse colleague. “His first thought is to take the defence on, especially on counter-attack, especially from full-back. He’s very good at beating the first man.
“He is very intelligent and sometimes you might think something he has done is a bit of a fluke, but I’ve played with him long enough now to know he has a plan. He gives off a laissez-faire attitude, then you say, ‘Where did that come from?’”
The fly-half adds that even when it looks like Médard’s in the worst possible position, with a defence bearing down on him, he still buys team-mates time.
“Playing with Max really gives you that calmness, especially for us as a back three,” agrees livewire wing Cheslin Kolbe. The Springbok stunned for Toulouse last season, making some of the best tacklers in the game look like they were playing blindfolded. As he tells it though, sometimes that happens because Médard has created a little more time or space for him.
He adds: “Maxime can communicate well with the wingers. We always look up to him and try to follow his example. When I first got here he said, ‘Do what you’ve been doing but find your feet quickly’. He’s guided me since day one.”
There are layers. The team-mates interviewed tell us that Médard is fond of joking with the young and foreign players – tying shoelaces together or hiding a single boot being his forte.
Ghiraldini says that before signing, having seen Médard on TV with flashy play and those big mutton-chop sideburns, he expected the star to have a big head. But he didn’t. Holmes says the same.
And there’s another paradox. Médard is described by team-mates as the most competitive man alive, he will not mince words and, despite those pranks, off the field he is shy. Kolbe says that if you tell him a joke, he goes red from head to toe. There is only so much chatter he will be part of. And between games, training and the extra conditioning sessions he is so fond of, few people will see him – he locks himself away with his family.
The flashy icon who is always there for team-mates; the prankster who is rarely seen in public. Just when you think you have a handle on Médard, he slips from your grasp, much like on the field.
Nyanga, who works at Racing 92 now, wished Medard luck in the Top 14 title race “but not too much.” Unfortunately for him, Toulouse and Medard would be champions once again.
But Nyanga will know better than most that Médard is too talented and too diligent to ever leave anything completely down to luck. Perhaps that’s why Nyanga signs off with the ubiquitous crying laughing emoji…
A version of this feature first appeared in the April edition of Rugby World.