France Accused of Systematic Drug taking in their Test Match with the All Blacks in 1986
French rugby is bracing itself for further allegations of systematic doping after it was claimed that several of the France team who beat New Zealand in the famous ‘Battle of Nantes’ in 1986 were high on amphetamines, but what is worse is there are other serious allegations of doping across the next couple of decades too. These allegations have come from a French journalist, Pierre Ballester, who co-wrote L.A. Confidentiel in 2004 with David Walsh, a book that first opened the eyes of the sporting world to the drug activities of Lance Armstrong. Ballester has many sound contacts in French anti-doping agencies. He has enlisted the support of several medical specialists and called witness from key figures such as Jacques Mombet, who was the France team’s doctor from 1975-95 and who spent 15 years prior to that at Agen. “Amphetamines always existed in rugby,” Mombet tells Ballester. “In the Seventies, entire teams took them … it wasn’t banned … you found them everywhere. It was systematic.”
The focus of the book centres on the second Test between France and New Zealand in Nantes on Nov 15, 1986. It has gone down as one of the most violent and ferocious matches ever played, with the All Blacks No 8 Wayne ‘Buck’ Shelford requiring stitches in his scrotum after being raked by a boot as he was trapped in a ruck. France had lost the first Test 19-7 the week before in Toulouse and the French team, coached by the diminutive former scrum-half Jacques Fouroux, Le Petit General, had come in for a lot of criticism. The response was telling and brutal, with France recording their biggest winning margin against the All Blacks, 16-3, but reports from the All Black camp spoke of their opponents as men possessed.
Mombet’s testimony explains how accurate that description was and why. “The French Team each had their little pill in front of their plates for the meal before the match,” Mombet is quoted as saying. “The All Blacks realised that their opponents, unrecognisable from the previous week, were loaded. The players were free to take the pills or not.” When pressed on specific players, such as icons of the time, Serge Blanco, Philippe Sella and Pierre Berbizier, Mombet stated that he saw no precise evidence of drug-taking with them. Sella has threatened to take legal action at even being mentioned. “When I read the article, my arms fell to my side,” Sella told the l’Equipe journalist Richard Escot. “I found it grotesque. I have nothing to reproach myself for. I feel defamed.”
All Blacks legend, Wayne “Buck” Shelford was the most prominent casualty in this so-called “Battle of Nantes”, as Shelford was caught at the bottom of a ruck 20 minutes into the game, losing four teeth, and sustained a large tear to his scrotum courtesy of a stray French boot. “When I came out of the tunnel and I saw them, I looked into the eyes of many of the players as I walked past them, and their eyes did not say that they were going into a game against the All Blacks. Their eyes just looked like they were on something, and I could not prove it.”
A top rugby prediction suggests that this is not the last we have heard of this story!