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RUGBY. They train twice a week on clay and dream of the World Cup in France

Ernest Wallon Stadium. Thursday morning. The heat is already present and overwhelming in the lair of Stade Toulousain. Les Rouge et Noir left the day before in Nice for the Top 14 semi-final against Castres Olympique. The grounds adjoining the stadium were still occupied by good fellows. 9:00 am and already under a dangerously rising mercury, the Burkina Faso team was about to start its training session. 91st nation in the World Rugby rankings, the Burkinabés must face Namibia in the opening match of the Rugby Africa Cup of Nations. A huge challenge for amateur players who are not used to training in optimal conditions.

Arriving on the field, I meet Thibault, coach of the team’s forwards, and Loïc, who takes care of the defense. Two very open people who explain to me in detail where the team is in its preparation for the competition, and how it intends to continue to prepare. Two former rugby players (Thibault notably played for the Stade Français), adventurers, who were seduced by the Burkina project. The Burkinabés arrived in Blagnac two weeks ago. After a period of acclimatization, they faced in a friendly match a selection “Swiss Barbarians” (which was Swiss only in name). A big defeat certainly, but which allowed the team to get in shape. This morning, Loïc will take care of the session and make the defense team work. On throwing the game on the sideline or scrum, the players will work on their placements and the spaces they have to fill.

Loïc is responsible for warming up the players. Like any club, the players chain short races in heel-buttocks, not chased and sprints. Then it’s the turn of Cheick, the team coach, to take over. Cheick is a pioneer of rugby in the country. He was one of the very first players to practice rugby in his country. Today a teacher at the French high school in Bobo-Dioulasso, the economic capital of the country, he is currently the coach of his country. The players therefore chain the ball handling exercises. Under the watchful eyes of Loïc and Thibault. Cheick is a reserved person, but who is respected by his players. Loïc and Thibault, they raise their voices and show their motivations and the best they wish for their players.

Well warmed up, the Burkinabés begin to set up and work on the defense. Loïc and Thibault take charge of the session, while Cheik observes attentively and notes what he sees. But before starting, a problem of chasubles appears. Players don’t. Finally, we see from the end of the field someone arrive with a set of jerseys from the Toulouse stadium. It is neither more nor less than Zéba Traoré, the club’s physical trainer. My brain then connects the few neurons it has to make the connection between Zéba, a native of Burkina Faso, and the presence of his compatriots on the adjoining ground. Everything becomes clear: Zéba Traoré has been supporting the team and the project since 2018, and is actively involved in enabling the team to have the best preparation conditions. Whether through their base camp at the Blagnac club, their excursion to the Stade Toulousain, but also the search for financial partners and physical preparation sessions. I felt bad for the players when Zéba told me he would take charge of them in the afternoon.

The opposition can therefore begin. Loïc and Thibault take the time to set up the players at each spontaneous scrum. The defending players take the time to communicate to find out who they have as an opponent and how they will go up. The attack finally unfolds and the defense works. A pattern that repeats itself for the duration of the session. The two teams obviously change roles. The rhythm accelerates with the speed of execution. Once the two teams are in place and have received instructions from their coaches, the game speeds up to try to find the rhythm of a match and put the players in real condition. As the session progresses, there is progress.

To work on the defense, Burkina had a basic attack pattern, which Loïc and Thibault did not touch too much. The following day, a Currie Cup Stormers coach was due to arrive to take care of the team’s attack. Thus, our two Frenchies were content to prepare the forward game and the defense before the offensive animation came into the hands of the South African coach. While the session was taking its course, team vice-captain Donald Bambara, injured for a few days and who was going to benefit from a muscle strengthening session by Zéba Traoré, explained to me how rugby works in Burkina.

Rugby is only 20 years old in Burkina Faso. We entered the board in 2007 only. Cheik is one of the first to have represented the national team at international level.

Our captain is still in the country, because he had administrative problems, but will join us very soon. We will also be joined by other players who play in Europe and who will raise the level of play. The team really needs it. We need “dads” who manage the team a little to get the most out of them.

In Burkina there is a national championship. We are 6 teams concentrated in Ouagadougou in the capital and Bobo-Dioulasso. But it’s not like in France of course. It only lasts three months and there are very few resources for rugby. The Ministry of Sports reserves 90% of its budget for football, and the rest for other sports.

Ah you are from Rugbynistere? I know your site well, I watch it especially for the TV program!

When I arrived, to complete Donald’s remarks, Loïc explained to me that the players from Ouagadougou trained once a week on a football pitch, and those from Bobo on clay… These players are preparing to challenge the Namibia in the opening match of the CAN in a few days. I find it somehow beautiful. Seeing the jigs, I don’t worry physically for them.

11:00. End of training. The team was able to work hard for two good hours. But the day is not over because Zéba is waiting for them at 2:00 p.m. Thibault, wishes to place a word to his players all the same. Feeling that the group could do better, he is afraid of missing out on something for the following reason: a trip of a month and a few to France is obviously exceptional for the players. The risk of believing oneself on vacation is great.

Fatherland or death, we will win! Everything you do, you do for your little brothers, for Burkinabe rugby. You must be aware of this and be on a mission! This is an exceptional opportunity. Don’t waste it.

Reported speech somewhat rounded, but whose outlines as well as the spirit remain faithful. The opportunity for Burkinabe rugby is indeed incredible. Playing the opening match against Namibia, moreover in France and live on television (Canal + sport), is a perfect opportunity to show young players full of talent. I could tell a lot more about this team, but it would take several articles. Still, Burkina, like all the other nations of the Rugby Africa Cup, will deserve to be followed during the competition. Even if there is little doubt about the outcome of the match against Namibia, it is above all a human adventure that will materialize from July 1 at the Delort stadium in Marseille.

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