US Montmélian are not an exceptional team. In fact they are bottom of their group in Fédérale 1, the top amateur rugby league in France. Yet, their match today against Marseille has attracted a lot of attention as it is the first match Jonah Lomu has played for Marseille since he arrived there less than a month ago. To celebrate this occasion the match was broadcast on French Eurosport.
The Montmélian players were clearly overwhelmed by the fact that they were on television with the commentators even mentioning how much better the game would be if the cameras were not present. This was as tough a match as I’ve ever seen. Three players (two from Montmélian, one from Marseille) were taken off with serious injuries, two having been knocked unconscious and one after landing on his shoulders/neck when he was tackled in the air. Everyone knew that the semi-professional team of Marseille would be too strong for the Montmélian side which trains for just 4 hours twice a week. However, the difference in strength is unfathomable. And this is all before you even consider who was wearing the number 13 shirt for Marseille.
The worst defeat Montmélian had suffered at the hands of Marseille was 42-22 earlier on this season. Today they lost 63-18. The loss of two key players in the first half hour due to the aforementioned injuries and the sending off of another for inflicting one of the two concussions meant that they were always on the back foot. Of the 63 points Marseille scored, Lomu contributed none. In fact, he only touched the ball a few times. So why did Marseille win by such a margin? It would seem that Lomu’s presence on the field was enough to inspire them. He may not have done much with the ball but he did spend a lot of the match instructing players around him, which clearly paid off. The fact that anytime he did get the ball it took up to four Montmélian players to stop him, left quite a few gaps, allowing other Marseille players capitalise. They did so, by scoring nine tries.
Marseille are a club on a mission. In a city where football is the game of choice this club has undertaken a ‘grand projet de rugby’ as their president calls it. Lomu is not the only former professional, with several players now living out their retirement in Marseille and playing with a team which aspires to reach the professional leagues within the next two seasons. This is a good team and Lomu when asked about his impact on the game claimed that he ‘didn’t really have to do much.’ He is just one of many good players on the team and today was certainly not the best. It has been a long time since he has played so even this ‘living legend’ as a teammate called him, was a bit rusty.
Can Montmélian take anything away from this game? They really never got into any kind of rhythm, conceding very early in both halves and losing three players early in the game. They did score 18 points, all penalties and all taken by the same player. Their number ten converted six of the seven penalties today and he did so in style. While the team bus may be full of disappointed players and lacking a couple of others who are being hospitalised at present, one player may very well be on the phone to a professional club. Being on Eurosport may have scared his teammates but his composure on this big occasion would put our own Ronan O’Gara to shame.