Opinion: The Curious Case of 'Le Petit Général

Opinion Piece Artwork Featuring several different athletes from various sporting codes

Clermont scrumhalf Morgan Parra has been left in the international wilderness for the past two-and-a-half-years. Shaun Goosen takes a look at the reasons behind this and why the diminutive half-back could make all the difference to a struggling French national side.


Morgan Parra is one of the world’s finest rugby players and has been for quite some time. His immense talent sees him outclass rival scrumhalves week in and week out, and France’s decision to exclude him from their struggling national set up post the 2015 World Cup is not only dumbfounding, it’s just plain stupid. However, at just 29-years young, the man they call “Le Petit Général” still has many rugby-playing years ahead of him, and there are numerous reasons to believe that he will be given another opportunity in the international arena in the not too distant future.

Prince Parra End's Saracens European Streak

Alivereti Raka grabbed all the headlines following ASM Clermont’s remarkable 46-14 Champions Cup win over Saracens at Allianz Park, and rightly so. The Fijian-born winger bagged a hat-trick inside the opening 25-minutes and was even responsible for setting up a 'Try of The Season' contender on his side’s way to ending the Londoner's two-year unbeaten record in Europe.

To the untrained eye, this game would have seemed like one heavily influenced by Clermont's talented outside backs. Upon closer inspection, however, it is quite clearly Parra – once again - who orchestrated the reigning French champions’ greatest performance all season long; doing so in his usual mesmeric fashion.

The former Bourgoin-Jallieu-man has, since making his international debut at the tender age of 19, become one of the world’s pre-eminent halfbacks, guiding Clermont to many wonderful victories during his 170-odd games for the club. At his best, Parra combines the passing ability of an Aaron Smith, the tactical kicking nous of a Conor Murray and the all-round influence and footballing brain of a Fourie du Preez. If you don’t believe me, watch Monday night’s fixture again. The man really is that good.

Not only does he possess one of the finest tactical and place-kicking boots in the game - Parra was successful with all seven of his efforts at goal at the Allianz, including a penalty from halfway - but his management of those around him certainly lives up to his nickname. Watching the stand-in Clermont skipper bark orders at the likes of Sébastien Vahaamahina and Benjamin Kayser – two players easily over 30 kilograms heavier than him – makes for fantastic viewing. So too the way in which these hulking forwards react to his orders; indeed, his teammates clearly understand and acknowledge the wily scrumhalf’s astute, match-shaping ability. What “Le Général” says, goes.

The fact that a player as prodigiously talented as Parra has been omitted from a floundering France brand, for the past two seasons, is as astounding as it is pathetic. Sure, his outspoken nature has been known to rub up a lot of people the wrong way, and in Baptiste Serin and Antoine Dupont, France do have some capable (and youthful) scrumhalf options. However, there is simply no rationalizing the fact that the 66-Test 'cap' veteran, who has not donned a Le Bleu jersey since France’s 2015 World Cup quarter-final exit, is not first in the national pecking order. The Parra case is equivalent to keeping a Jaguar F-Type SVR in the garage, and instead opting to drive a regular old Ford Focus for fear of upsetting bystanders with its loud revving. It just beggars belief.

Travesty

It really has been a travesty to see how far the once great France have fallen under the Philippe Saint-André and Guy Novès regimes. Of course, the questionable leadership of the French Rugby Federation is largely to blame, but there is no getting around the fact that the appointment of a series of incompetent coaches – none of whom have rated Parra - has only added fuel to what is now a raging fire. It is expected, however, that the out of his depth Noves will not be in charge much longer, as France look to build a set of respectable results in the lead-up to their hosting of the 2023 Rugby World Cup. We can only hope that whoever is next in line builds a side around the genius of Parra, and puts him in the driver’s seat.

Clermont’s go-to man has proven time and again over the past two seasons that he still has what it takes to be a success at international level. Indeed, his experience may prove invaluable to the French national team; a side that clearly lacks any meaningful forms of leadership. Even if he isn’t in the mix by the time 2023 rolls around - he would be going on 35 by then - Parra’s presence would only bring out the best in Serin and Dupont, and add some much-needed quality to Noves’ playing ranks for the time being.

While it seems Parra’s international career will continue to stall in the immediate future, if common sense prevails, the next French coach will realize just how important a player of his ilk could be to the national cause. In the meantime, all us spectators can do is sit back, relax and marvel as Clermont’s number-nine continues to grab European club matches by the scruff of the neck, à la a Du Preez in his prime. He is one of the very best that this great game has to offer, and it’s perverse that he continues to be so criminally underrated.

Written by Shaun Goosen for @Hollywoodbets.net

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