If you lived through the 1999 Rugby World Cup semifinal at Twickenham and were of an age when you can retain information, you will remember Christophe Dominici.
You will remember how this diminutive wing, not much taller than Grant Batty and not much heavier than Terry Wright, utterly embarrassed the All Blacks’ defence on the way to the most dramatic RWC exit in history.
Even without the benefit of YouTube, you may have shuddering recollections of the sizzling first half break by Dominici which shredded the All Blacks line – he beat at least four defenders – and from the next ruck led to a try to French No 10 Christophe Lamaison.
Dominici’s second half try was down to luck but was also a thing of beauty, latching on to a box kick that bounced wickedly away from Andrew Mehrtens to scoot down the left flank. Maybe his legend would not have grown had he marked Jonah Lomu, who did a one-man wrecking ball impression on the flaky but fast Philippe Bernat-Salles.
France won the game, in spectacular fashion, and having just climbed its Everest, lost the final to Australia. It mattered not. Dominici was feted everywhere he went, through the rugby regions of southern France and his Paris home in the north, where he plied his trade for glamour club Stade Français.
But the man who had grown up from humble origins in the south of France, playing for his local club Sollies-Pont (now La Vallée du Gapeau) and then graduating to Toulon, could not handle the fame. His form dropped away even after his public appearances increased exponentially. It was feared his World Cup career could be over at 27, when it had only just started. Five games, two tries. It left la publique française wanting more, much more.
The next four years saw Dominici battle injury and off-field issues, not to mention the vicissitudes of the French selectors. He played just 16 tests before Australia 2003, but then instantly made his mark, scoring four tries in the RWC tournament – a double against Fiji in Brisbane, one against Japan in Townsville, and a single in the quarter-final win in Melbourne over Ireland. But his disappointment was palpable as France was tipped out at the semifinals stage by its bitter rival, England, sailing home on the boot of one Jonny Wilkinson.
From 2004-07 Dominic won back the favour of coach Bernard Laporte on a far more regular basis and then, as a 35-year-old, saw action in five of the seven French games, including both defeats to Argentina. He scored a double against Georgia in Marseille. But the fire had gone, and he retired soon afterwards, before shifting to coaching.
This writer had the pleasure of meeting Dominici not long after his greatest moment in 1999. He looked wan with fatigue as we shared a beer at the tiny clubhouse of La Moutonne, near Toulon. In that environment he was just one of the boys, mixing with his childhood mates (his best friend played centre for our La Vallée du Gapeau team). But fame was hard for Dominici. It was thus to his eternal credit that he battled back, went to two more World Cups, and finished with a not inconsiderable tally of 25 tries from 67 test matches. That places him amongst the greats of the French game.
Those of a more, ahem, artistic bent will remember Dominici featuring heavily in the Dieux du Stade promotion in which the Stade Français boys posed in all manner of naked, risqué and downright un-rugby poses. This rugbyman from the south then suddenly appealed to a whole new fan group, unused to rugby and its ethos.
But All Blacks fans do not care for that. They only care that the little winger with the dancing feet was central to one of the biggest boilovers the Rugby World Cup has ever seen.
RWC career: Christophe Dominici
Tournaments (3): 1999, 2003, 2007 (15 matches, eight tries)
Age at RWCs: 27, 31, 35
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Not all our own way for NZ teams
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