Major teams: Biarritz
Test span: 1980-91
Test caps: 93 (93 starts)
Test points: 233 (38T, 6C, 21P, 2DG)
Rugby’s Greatest: Serge Blanco
The Eighties were the halcyon of French rugby, where players wearing le coq would play with abandon, verve and a certain je ne sais quoi. Fitting the bill perfectly was Serge Blanco.
Born in Caracas to a Venezuelan mother, Blanco was nevertheless raised in the rugby hotbed of Biarritz where, as a proud Basque, he stayed for his entire career, going on to become the president of the club. Blessed with the pace of a wing, ability to counter from anywhere on the field and a fiery temperament, Blanco was a dangerous adversary who went on to win 93 caps – every single one of them as a starter.
Not the most vigorous defender, he routinely turned defence into attack, scoring 38 Test tries – still a French record to this day. After winning Grand Slams in both 1981 and 1987, his most famous score came in the first World Cup against Australia where he smoked – he did like his Gitanes – the covering defence in the dying minutes of the semi-final to go over in the corner and put France into the final.
Another Blanco classic was as the catalyst for one of the greatest tries ever witnessed. With a typical cavalier attitude, he broke out from behind his try-line at Twickenham to spark a move that finished with Philippe Saint-André sprinting in under the posts, 100m upfield.
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In the book Brothers in Arms, Patrice Lagisquet says of Blanco: “His pace was extraordinary, being able to just glide away from the opposition. You couldn’t see him accelerate because his legs didn’t go any faster, he simply lengthened his stride.
“His mental side was very impressive too. If he made a mistake, he just put it behind him. It wouldn’t stop him trying something else as daring immediately.”
Blanco’s Test farewell, however, was a disappointment as France lost to England in the RWC 1991 quarter-finals. Blanco, the captain, was specifically targeted under the high ball.
Post-rugby, he has had a huge influence on French rugby as an administrator. He was a long-term president of the Ligue National de Rugby (LNR) and joined Saint-André’s coaching set-up as an unofficial adviser to help the misfiring French back-line.
Commerce, too, has been kind to him as the former mechanic now boasts a business empire that includes a clothing range and a luxury hotel chain.
Mercurial and enigmatic, Blanco had a presence few could match.