Jérémy Sinzelle (Centre de Toulon) – In this river interview, the European champion returns frankly to his tumultuous departure from Stade Rochelais, his return and his ambitions with RC Toulon.
A few months ago, if you had been told that you would return to RC Toulon ten years later, would you have believed it?
(smile) Nope ! It’s a great story, a great end to return to Toulon. Coming to the Campus, I said to myself that it had passed quickly (laughs). Damn, I have to enjoy! These are the last three seasons of my life. I take this challenge 100%. These are my last cartridges. A year ago, I was under contract with La Rochelle. In truth, everything went very quickly with the RCT. The first contacts were made near the end of the season, around January or February. I managed that in parallel with my objectives with La Rochelle. It was a complicated moment.
Were you touched by your end of adventure in La Rochelle, where you seemed in conflict with Ronan O’Gara?
I was not hit. My lawyer was very important in this step, because I had one year left on my contract. I knew it was the end with La Rochelle in January, we were lucky to finish well with this title. I have no regrets. Let’s say… (he pauses) I expected a little more from La Rochelle. I’m not saying it was a lack of affection, but I would have liked people to take a little more side on certain points. La Rochelle didn’t do everything to hold me back.
I was made to feel that it was easier for me to leave and commit to a new project. I didn’t want to be there to be there, to do some extras. At 32, I’m not interested. For a little that, on this last year of contract, you do not play and something happens to you, there is a possibility of staying on the side. After that, it’s still sport. Rugby becomes like that, the lawn is not greener in La Rochelle than elsewhere. All this forced me to quickly turn the page. But, it’s incredible to come back to Toulon. Fate did it right.
What do you mean behind the phrase « rugby becomes like that »?
Rugby has clearly become a business. It’s a sport business. Everything changed. This is today’s rugby. I have also evolved and changed, over the years and with my sport. I adapt to this changing world. I’m not the old fart to say it was better before (laughs). It’s also false! In order not to stay on the sidelines, I also have to adapt to this new generation of players, managers and everything around. Rugby is getting more and more media coverage. And this is a good thing. But, behind, you can’t have one word higher than the other. Sometimes, comments can be misinterpreted or badly formulated in the press. Everyone pays more and more attention to what he says. There are very few natural things. Sometimes it’s not even the real people you face (laughs).
How were the first contacts made with Toulon?
I especially had Pierre (Mignoni) on the phone and I was surprised… In fact, to be honest, what made me weird was that Pierre had not yet been announced in Toulon (laughs). So Pierre, Lyon coach, called me to go to Toulon… I had one year left on my contract, I’m 32, I couldn’t be mistaken. This decision, I took it in a delicate moment with La Rochelle, where we had bad results in February. We were still in the European Cup. I was in between. At the RCT, I was offered a three-year contract and it’s hard to refuse. In addition to the sporting challenge, it is a family choice. My girlfriend is from here. I have two children, who will be able to rub shoulders with their grandparents on a daily basis.
A kid coming back to the Rade, some of your friends didn’t risk it…
I’m just a kid who left ten years ago. I have nothing to lose. I am at the end of my career. I hope to bring something to the young people, to this club. Clearly, I want to win titles. We only remember the guys who win. In Toulon as elsewhere, we only remember the guys who won trophies. I hope to leave my mark.
It’s the first time you’ve been so expected in a club. You finally have the recognition of your peers and the public. Do you feel that your status has changed?
I have no status. It’s a boat sentence: the counters are at zero. I won elsewhere. In real life, I was champion of France and Europe. In Toulon, the page is blank. I haven’t done anything yet. It’s a new cycle. The past status does not exist. In Toulon, I did nothing. Who cares what I did before. And I want us to mark the history of the club with this group.
With your experience, how do you approach being coached by two head coaches?
It is surprising, at first sight. Toulon is the only club to have two headliners in its staff. But, once inside, we feel that things are falling into place. We have to give them time. When you have two guys with the same status, it can get complicated in the sense that each can pass the buck: « No, it’s not me, it’s Franck (Azéma). No, this time it’s Pierre who manages. » This game can be dangerous, because we are used to having only one leader in high-level sport. The most important thing is to allow time. Afterwards, for everything to be clearer for the people on the outside, we will have to win matches (smile). If you don’t start well, it’s going to be a mess. The first cycle will be crucial.
How does this work out on a day-to-day basis?
We feel that Pierre is a little above in the vision. Franck takes charge of the three-quarter game a little more. Pierre is a little more detached. You still feel that we are leaving with a prototype in certain phases: one forwards coach, the other three-quarters, Pierre is a little behind and supervises. Then, in the collective movement, both in attack and in defense, everyone is involved. In the collective, everyone has a say.
In your speech, the win comes almost in all your answers…
I’m not being pretentious in saying that I always got up in the morning hoping to be able to brandish trophies. If I’m a high-level athlete, it’s for the win. I am not in Toulon in retirement, to draw my last three years. I want to finish well, it necessarily involves winning a trophy. The rest doesn’t interest me. If it’s to look at the walls with old photos from the 2010s… I was lucky enough to win in Paris and La Rochelle. Now it’s Toulon. Make quarters or halves, it falls into oblivion. We must not lie to each other. I tell myself every day that I am here to win titles.
Do you want to carry this speech in the group?
I want the guys to say the same thing: it’s time to win back Toulon. We have a good group. Some guys in the industry tell me that at 25, they’re still young. No no. Now is the time (he bangs his fist on the table). At 30 you start to look old, at 20 you are young. When you’re 25, like some guys in this band, I tell them it’s time. I hope everyone feels it.
Would a possible title with the RCT have a different taste than those with La Rochelle or Stade Français?
Yes, in a certain sense, because that’s where it starts. Having experienced the port in La Rochelle, I tell myself that in Toulon… It must be not bad all the same (laughs). It was phew what I experienced there. I seriously liked it. Besides, I have more memories of this arrival at the port than when we lifted the European Cup at the Vélodrome. The next day, you have time to savor and realize. All those people who were waiting for us… That’s how we mark people. I want to relive this feeling of the port of La Rochelle in Toulon. I want to continue to live moments that I will remember for life.
You have won everywhere you have gone. Based on this experience, what is the recipe?
I also lost a Challenge Cup final with the RCT in 2010 (smile). Beyond rugby, to play well collectively with a game background, to be physically fit, we have to love each other. I want this group to like each other. If we love each other, we transcend each other for the guy next door. This group must be strong and for that, we must love each other.
How do you analyze this group since your arrival?
We feel that it was hard for guys last season. I didn’t stir everything up, because we want to start a new cycle. I especially hope that this group will connect with this public. I don’t want the players on one side and the audience on the other. In Toulon, we must pull in the same direction. From the outside, I feel like he’s been missing that in recent years. To win, everyone is important: the people in the offices, the players, the staff, the public. We all have to put ourselves in the same bubble to seek victories.
You seem to fit into a natural leadership role in this group…
I’m not putting any pressure on myself with that. Above all, I want to make the game project as clear as possible for everyone. At the center or at the opening, you have to make the guys around you play well. I like having an impact on my team. In the group, I always wonder what is best for the partner next to me. I think the game to try to have the best assemblies with friends. But don’t worry, I will always have the frankness to say things when things are not going well, outside or on the pitch. The goal is to move this group forward. We will be a little less well, sometimes, and we will have to tell each other things. When you have bad sessions or bad matches, you have to say so. I’m not the guy who talks to talk. I speak when I feel I have something relevant to say.
The competition for the center position will be intense. Has the staff planned to use you in another register?
You don’t win without competition. This is what makes us better in training, in games and in the life of the group. At 32, I’m ready to show that I still want to go there. I may not always be the best, but I want to be able to always respond. I signed as a center but if I have to play in another position, like at the opener, I will go and try to be the best I can be. It’s been a long time since I played in this position. Baptiste (Serin) and Benoît (Paillaugue) know how to do it. For the moment, it is not in the project.
Are you counting the days before finding Mayol with the lily-of-the-valley jersey?
These are my last years, I need to feel big atmospheres. I know that in delicate moments, it will grumble in Toulon (laughs). In good times, it will be incredible madness. I want to feel Mayol with the red and black jersey. When I arrive, I mustn’t go to the wrong locker room, don’t go to the right (laughs). It’s gonna be great, I’m sure. I didn’t check anything off the calendar. Every time I came back, I always had lots of friends and family in the stands. Mayol, it’s apart, with this boiling side. Mayol and Deflandre are atypical and exciting places. I can’t wait for my children, two little Rochelais, to discover this. At home, they still sing to me: « Here, here, it’s La Rochelle. » We will have to quickly move on to Pilou-Pilou. Now it’s not the boat anymore, it’s the lily of the valley (smile).