Great day for Galthié the philosopher king

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The bespectacled, headmasterly Bernard Laporte may be the coach of France but it is Fabien Galthié, who provides the heartbeat of a team who have been going about their World Cup business with an alarming assurance.

"We have prepared for this adventure over 16 weeks and it leaves us with one objective,'' Galthié said. "We have to keep a good atmosphere. My life is not complete without the team. The cup gives every player a chance to get something out of it, out of the experience. We can't take something out of it as a team if we do not give of ourselves. I have to give something before I take the emotion out of it and that's what I do as a captain, that is my duty.''

At the age of 34, Galthié joins a select group of players who have appeared in four World Cups. This is his first as the undisputed number one number nine and there's very little comparison between 1999 and 2003.

Four years ago, while New Zealand were enjoying the five-star luxury of the Penny-hill Park Hotel in Bagshot, Surrey - yes, the same establishment that was subsequently taken over by Team England - France were staying in Chalvey, a multi-ethnic suburb of Slough.

In the semi-final at Twickenham, the French, with Galthié at their heart, overturned a 24-10 deficit into an earth-shattering 43-31 victory over the All Blacks, a result that had a depressing effect on the New Zealand economy.

"What we lived through in '99 was extraordinary but it was a little bit chaotic,'' Galthié said. "Whereas here we have gone in with preparation and focus much better. Now the spirit of the team is more like 2002, when we won the Six Nations. We are very focused, very driven. There's a lot more spirit.''

If France lose today it will be Galthié's last match. Last January he was voted the International Rugby Board Player of the Year and six months later, for Stade Français, whose anthem is "I Will Survive", he finished his club career by winning the French Championship, his first in 17 years. Despite making his first appearance for France at the age of 21 he has often been at the centre of a cause célèbre. In both the 1995 and 1999 World Cups he was originally overlooked. Eight years ago he packed his bags and played in South Africa.

"I have no regrets,'' he said. "At the time, in 1995 as in '99, I was bitterly disappointed. I felt I was unfairly treated and that I was the victim of injustice. But that is all forgotten, it's in the past. I have turned the page and in my heart of hearts I know I have set the record straight. I never gave up, I always persevered and I never lost sight of the fact that rugby is just a game.

"The good thing about the last two World Cups is that I didn't have to do all the boring stuff, all the hard training, the camps or the build-up games, I just came in and played the big matches.''

Galthié is vital to the French cause, not just as captain but as partner and minder to the 21-year-old stand-off Frédéric Michalak, with whom he has an excellent relationship.

"I try not to live alone,'' Galthié said. "I'm with the team. I think I have to put the emotion on one side. You can try too hard to play well.''

If they are to become world champions, Galthié believes France require what he calls "un brin de folie", or a hint of madness. "We need that to set us apart from other teams,'' he said, "and that enables us to multiply our potential to the power of infinity.

"I believe we have the potential to go all the way. But it's not enough just to have the potential, we have to be able to play above ourselves. Winning the semi-final in 1999 is a fantastic memory but we lost the final, and I still feel deep frustration about that.

"Of course I want to take that final step that would win us the World Cup. There are so many factors that have to come together to make it a reality but in the end you just have to believe in your destiny. I believe in my destiny. I hardly dare think about it, but something tells me that perhaps the best is still to come.''

As you might have guessed, Fabien is something of a philosopher. He rarely mentioned England, but when he was asked how they contrasted with France he shrugged his shoulders. "They're different but I don't know why they're different. They are in the semi-final so they are OK. There's always fear there, but I will go out and counter it with courage. This could be my last game but it is not an obsession for me.''

France appear to be at home on Bondi Beach, which doesn't have a lot in common with Slough. "Our team are like the weather,'' Galthié added. "Sometimes good, sometimes bad, some days rainy, some days sunny. I hope against England it is fine and not too windy.''

Galthié wasn't around when Les Bleus lost the inaugural World Cup final to New Zealand in 1987 but he cannot forget losing to the Wallabies in the climax four years ago. As he was speaking, in Sydney, the sun appeared.