Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Christophe Dominici: The Personification Of French Flair

Posted on 9 December 2020 by Myles McDevitt

Christophe Dominici was 5ft 7in. He may have been small in size but his impact on French rugby was huge as the Eiffel Tower.

He passed away at the age of 48. At many different international rugby matches over the past few weekends, a minute’s silence has been held in his memory.

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The elusive winger was capped 67 times for his country, scoring 25 times in the process, and represented La Valette, Stade Français and Toulon domestically.

However off the pitch, Dominici’s struggle with mental health had been well documented throughout his life. Throughout his childhood, he suffered abuse, and his depression was triggered due to  the death of his older sister Pascale.

Sports Gazette looks back on his life and amazing career in rugby.

His early years

Dominici showed signs of a sporting prowess at a young age. He was a talented footballer, training with French League club AS Monaco. Football ran through the Dominci family –  his father was a goalkeeping coach at SR Colmar and Hyrès FC

 At the age of 17, he turned his attention to rugby, playing scrum-half for Solliès-Pont in the third division of French rugby. The stint with the team would last for two years, as he left for Valletta in the second division, shifting into the centre.

After impressing at Valetta, the hierarchy of RC Toulon showed interest in him, and as such in 1993 they signed him.

 Far from being the European powerhouses that they would be in years to come,Toulon were plagued by financial difficulties. Despite this, Dominici impressed.

Moving to Stade Français and winning his first cap for France

In 1997, Dominici made the move to Stade Français where he would build a relationship with head coach Bernard Laporte, who was to be French national team coach in years to come.

Dominici’s early period at Stade Français was a huge success, as the club won the French Top 14 title in 1998 beating Perpignan.

1998 was also a momentous year for Dominici, not only domestically but internationally. He won his first international cap against England at the start of the 1998 Five Nations Championship, and capped his debut with a try in front of a huge crowd at the Stade De France as France beat England by 24-17.

France would go onto the claim the Grand Slam for the championship that year.

1999 Rugby World Cup

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The 1999 Rugby World Cup was the first World Cup in the professional era. France were drawn into Pool C alongside Fiji, Namibia and Canada. Despite winning all three matches in their pool, they had looked wooden and did not put sides away comfortably beating Canada and Fiji by only 13 and 11 points respectively.

France then saw off Argentina in the quarter final and booked a date with New Zealand in the semi finals at Twickenham.

The semi final pitted Dominici against the man who defined rugby union in the professional era, Jonah Lomu.

The game was an evenly matched affair, with France and the All Blacks only separated by two points midway through the second half. Then scrum-half Fabien Galthie put in a box kick which bounced kindly for Dominici who burned past the All Black defence and raced in for the try to take France into a remarkable lead.

His influence on the game inspired more French tries. France had more belief in them going forward. This was down to Dominici, who single handedly turned the semi-final around.

France started to shock the pre-tournament favourites with fantastic set piece moves and heroic defence, forcing the All Blacks to make mistakes.

France won the game 43-30, and when the whistle blew, Dominici ran onto the pitch in utter joy like a kid in a candy shop.

“The biggest upset in the whole of  Rugby World Cup history”, said ITV commentator John Taylor. And Dominici was the catalyst for that upset.

 

France lost the final 35-12 to Australia – but Dominici had well and truly arrived.

The early 2000s

The new millennium promised so much for French rugby with the arrival of Laporte as head coach.

A Six Nations Grand Slam in 2002 and impressive showings internationally saw them go into the 2003 Rugby World Cup in Australia as one of the tournament favourites.

France sailed through their pool, with Dominici scoring against Japan, and twice against Fiji. His best try of the tournament came in the quarter-final against Ireland. His searing pace proving too hot to handle for Ireland that day as France went onto win 43-21.

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Up next was England in the semi-final – but Dominici went off for cramp after he was yellow carded for a trip on Jason Robinson. France lost 24-7 in torrid conditions in Sydney, with Jonny Wilkinson kicking all of England points.

Later career

Stade Français had become one of the top clubs in France, winning won the Top 14 in 2000, 2003 and 2004 with Dominici an integral part of the side.

However, he was facing competition for his number 11 shirt for France in the form of Toulouse pairing Cedric Heymans and Vincent Clerc. He was in and out of the starting 15 leading up to the next World Cup in France.

France spectacularly lost to Argentina on the opening night of Rugby World Cup 2007. They rebounded from there and finished 2nd in their pool.

Finishing second in their pool meant another date with New Zealand, this time at the Millennium Stadium. The All Blacks had a 13-3 lead at half time before France came back and stunned the rugby world winning by 20-18. Dominici was one of four players that played in both the 1999 and 2007 win against the All Blacks. 

But like 2003, their World Cup ended with a semi-final loss to England, with Wilkinson breaking French hearts once again.

Dominici made one final appearance for France in the third-place playoff against Argentina, which they lost heavily.

Life after rugby 

After retiring, Dominici turned his attentions to coaching and stayed on at Stade Français as a coach.He was an assistant coach to future Australian coach Ewen McKenzie at the start of the 2008/09 season before joining the Stade Francais board the following season. 

Dominici’s problems with mental health had been with him throughout his life since the death of his sister when he was aged 14.

“When she died I went into self-defence,’’ he recalled. “I resented the whole world. Pascale helped me with my homework and taught me to dance.

“The blues of my childhood always caught up with me. I feel like I am naked, helpless. I plunge into melancholy. I give free rein to my self-destructive ideas.”

In 2020, he launched a bid with a United Arab Emirates consortium to take over Beziers Rugby club but the deal ultimately fell through. Friends of Dominici said that the move had affected him personally.

Although the passing of Christophe Dominici is a sad one, his playmaking skill and ability lit up French rugby and was a danger to any defence on whatever pitch he played on. 

His death hugely signifies the importance of mental health in rugby and the support networks that players all around the world can rely on. Whilst his death is utterly heartbreaking, the legacy that he left will touch French rugby forever.

If you or someone you know is struggling, UK mental health charity Mind maintain a list of helplines and services.

And if you’re reading this from outside the UK, you can find a service near you at CheckPoint.Org.