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Vincent Clerc

For Vincent Clerc, Home Alone was anything but a comedy. Called up for the first time by the French national rugby team, the boy from Grenoble would never get any further than Charles-de-Gaulle airport. 19 years later, he tells about how without the help of his mother and the goodwill of his coaches his career would never have been the same.

My pockets. My jacket. My sports bag. I looked everywhere, but it was no use. That moment of panic that we all know. But, there are times when it really isn’t the time. Even when you’re not quite 20. Even when you’re carefree. What I was looking for? My fucking ID card. The reason I was wilting on the spot was that even though I was still young, I did not have my whole life ahead of me. My moment, was right then. The next thing I did was call my mother. I will explain this moment of panic in due course, however to understand how it came about, you must first understand why I was in such a state.


It was autumn 2001. I had turned 20 years old in May. I had just finished the first season where people had started to stand up and take notice of me. Better late than never – especially considering that it really could have been never! I will not say that rugby was only a hobby, but my physical attributes had made me start to think that my dreams would remain just that – dreams.

Left behind, and rightly so, by the international youth teams for several long years, I was part of the group for whom the penny would have drop later, otherwise it never would.

Thankfully, it did drop that year. Physically, I was more impressive. From a sporting standpoint, the context was a bit more enjoyable for me. Grenoble had been relegated to Pro D2 and Jacques Delmas had arrived to take the club back to the elite level. The youth players had started to play more and more, which was not always the case back in the day, and this was enough to pique people’s interest and earn me a call-up to an expanded U20 side for a tournament in Ireland and England. I received the call up – a passport to a new world. I still remember the list of clothing that we were going to receive – it was incredible! I was still at the academy; I was no longer living with my parents. A few weeks later, I was on the way to Paris. What happiness!


I arrived at the hotel next to the Roissy Airport. There, I met up with Jean-Claude Skrela for the check-in. It was at that moment, I knew. You know the feeling, when you’re searching for something that you really know you don’t have but you don’t really know what’s going to happen next. Still, you have to tell the coach. His response was anything but surprising.

« Right, kid, you can go home. We’ll call a Parisian winger to make up the numbers ».

And can I take the kit home with me? If I’d had the time to have a bit of humour, that’s certainly what I would have thought. Instead, I asked if I could have a bit of time to try and figure out a solution. I think I even begged him.

« You’ve got until tomorrow morning, 8am.».

OK. I pick up my bags and drag myself to the hotel. In my head, it was simple: I had the time. A night train. A bit of goodwill. Hitchhiking, even, if it came to that. There was no way I was giving up; I didn’t want to miss this opportunity.

My plan took a bit of a knock when the reality of getting a TGV from Paris to Grenoble in the middle of the night dawned on me, so I call my mother. She tells me not to panic and that she will call the border control at the airport. I hang up, hopeless but almost reassured by the serenity of my mother.


« I’ve been able to get hold of the manager. He told me that you should pretend to have lost your ID card tomorrow morning. You must make it look like it has been stolen, and then, you will fill out a declaration saying that you have lost your papers. They will give you an emergency pass that will allow you to travel. »

As she said it, it seemed so simple, even too easy. In my hotel room, so late at night that I could not speak to the coaches, I tried to sleep. The night was long. I am not normally of a stressful man, but from memory, I don’t think I’ve ever slept so badly in my life, no matter the event the following day. I was so scared of having this opportunity pass me by.

The following morning, the coaches told me :

« OK, let’s give it a shot ».

Alone with my fear, I go to the small office on the top floor of the airport. I talk to the border control agents and they are kind. They quickly tell me that I will be able to travel. They give me a small piece of yellow paper that I clutch so tightly as if it is the most valuable thing in my life.

Why? Because once I was gone, I was gone. We can always rewrite history, but I honestly don’t have a single idea how my life would have panned out had things not gone for me that day.

I didn’t know a single person in the squad, but the lads were all very nice. I had arrived as a reserve, under observation like some of the other new arrivals. There was Grégory Lamboley, the father of the group. He spoke loudly and everyone gathered around here. It’s funny to look back on that time when we know the relationship that we would share years later.


In the end, I played a match against Ireland and another against England. Shortly afterwards, I played in the U20 Six Nations where the opening game was played at my home ground – Stade Lesdisguières. It was an incredible memory, especially considering immediately afterwards we won the Grand Slam. After this, I would move to Toulouse before being called up to the French first team in November 2002. My career was underway, all thanks to a small piece of yellow paper.

I never really spoke about it with my mother since that day. However, now that I think about it: thanks, Mum.



France's International, Winger at RC Toulon, he holds the record for Top 14 tries (100 tries).

Vice Champion du Monde 2011

Champion d’Europe 2003, 2005, 2010

Vice Champion d’Europe 2004,2008

Champion de France 2008, 2011, 2012

Vainqueur 6 Nations 2004, 2007, 2010

Recorman d’essais de l’histoire de la Coupe d’Europe

Recordman d’essais du Top 14

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