A fearsome and much respected backrower, Daniel Divet was first introduced to Rugby League when he lived in Australia in his youth.
He returned to France, the country of his birth, in 1985 to play for Limoux before he transferred to Carcassonne. He is fondly remembered at Hull FC and Featherstone Rovers, both of whom he represented in the mid-1990s.
He was a member of the last France team to beat either Great Britain or England.
If you could relive one day from your career, which would it be?
Headingley in 1990 when France beat Great Britain. It is one of the best wins in France’s history. And playing for France in Australia a few months later in front of family and friends.
How did you get into Rugby League?
I was born near Bordeaux and we moved to Australia when I was very little. If we’d stayed in France, I would have been a swimmer, but a mate introduced me to Rugby League and I started to play near Manly for Harbord United Devils in 1978 when I was 11. A lot of Manly players like Steve Menzies started there. Rick Chisholm, the father of Dane, was one of the best players. I also played with Ian Gately and David Hosking, who later played for Keighley and Hull KR.
How long did you play for them?
I went through the under-16s and under-18s and then got picked for under-23s, but a bunch of players came down from reserve grade and took our places at the end of one season, which annoyed me, so I left. Ron Willey’s son, Shaun, signed for a club in France, so I did the same. I hooked up with Limoux first in 1985, aged 18. I played first grade. Rugby League was very violent in France then, but life was good, and it was fun, even though the training was 20 years behind what we did at Manly.
Why did you move to Carcassonne in 1988?
They gave me a big contract. I got married, had a kid, got a house. It all happened too quickly. Things went well because Jacques Jorda took over the French team in 1988 and he was a great coach. He brought through a lot of kids like Didier Cabestany, Patrick Entat, Thierry Valero and me and we were all in the team that won at Headingley.
How big was Rugby League then in France? Were games televised?
No! Television stopped because of a final in the mid-1980s when there was a big brawl. It did a lot of harm to the game in France and it was the final straw for the TV companies. But we used to get crowds of five to six thousand at Carcassonne. The clubs get no more than 500 now.
Was it your generation that turned things around?
I think so, and Jacques had a lot to do with that. He’s the best coach I had. He stopped the violence. He was like an Australian coach who knew how to get the best out of players. But there’s always been a lot of in-fighting in the French Federation and that’s always held us back. Aurelien Cologni was the France coach for a while, and that was okay, but there’s too much politics.
Did you feel hostilities directed at Rugby League from union?
We had a hard time with rugby union but they were offering good money. Narbonne made me a big offer, even though union wasn’t professional. It was cash under the table, of course. But I was making good money at Carcassonne and I had a good job with the Council.
How dominant was the Carcassonne team that you played for?
They had money, so we had the best players. We were champions in 1992. I’ve won three out of five Cup Finals and lost two by one point. The last one was in 1996 with Limoux, which I think was the first time Limoux won the Cup.
Did you get to know Puig Aubert?
Yes, and I knew what a great player he was, but I used to joke with him that he wouldn’t have been the best player in the 1990s. He once scored a try for France after he hid the ball under his jumper. He smoked cigarettes on the pitch. He wasn’t fit, but he was quick, and his kicking game was incredible. He was a great bloke and a real character. He died in 1994 when I was in England.
He was the best, but people in France are still talking about 1951 [when France beat Australia]. They are living in the past. He coached in the 1970s. He was a great guy and he gave me tips. He drank pastis and he’d come over after a game and say, “I won’t tell you what you did well because you know that. This is what you did wrong…” He knew what he was talking about. He was a legend.
What can you remember of your France debut against Papua New Guinea in 1987?
I was very proud, especially when they played the anthem. I saw a boxing kangaroo in the crowd, and I knew it was my mates. PNG were very strong. We were coached by Tas Baitieri who did so much for French Rugby League. He was a great man and he’s done so much for Rugby League all over the world. He should have been more listened to in France.
What more can you tell us about that 25-18 win over Great Britain in 1990?
We were confident because we’d recently pushed New Zealand and Great Britain very close. We’d been ripped off by the referee in Perpignan when we lost 8-4 to Great Britain. The Rugby Leaguer said we shouldn’t have lost. Alan Tait knocked on and Guy Delaunay scored, but it was wrongly disallowed. Because of that performance, we knew we could beat them. Our defence was fine. We’d made some errors in attack, but we knew we could improve on that.
It was a tough game at Headingley. It was Shaun Edwards’ first game as captain and he tried to do too much. He lost his discipline and it did us the world of good. I scored my first international try, just by being in the right place at the right time. Our support play was really good that day if you look at the tries. Jacques had us believing in ourselves. A few Great Britain players lost their tour spots. They didn’t like losing. Kelvin Skerrett didn’t like it, nor did Edwards, but the crowd was warm to us. Great Britain were too sure of themselves and should have taken us more seriously.
When will France next beat England?
The Dragons have done well, but I’m not sure if Toulouse is a good thing or not. I followed them last year and they got in on the percentage basis, having played fewer games than other teams. I have a soft spot for Featherstone, who I thought should gone up. I’m not sure there are enough good French players for two teams. Mr Guasch has done an unreal job, but he hasn’t always had the support of the French Federation. Youngsters in France suddenly had a dream that they could play Super League, the same dream Australian, Kiwi and English players have always had. But junior leagues have always been poor in France and they don’t play enough fixtures. Until they get the game going in the schools, things won’t change. French players don’t start playing properly until 18 or 20. When I was 16 in Australia, I was playing three one-hour games a week – SG Ball, for my college and then for my club. Here, it’s just a short 25-minute game, maybe once a week, and it’s not enough. The coaching system isn’t right either. When I was assistant to John Monie, a report was written by Mick Aldous, making recommendations for the game, but it disappeared because people didn’t like what was in it. They wouldn’t listen to John either.
How did your move to Hull from Carcassonne in January 1993 come about?
I’d signed for Hull KR in 1990, but my wife was pregnant and was too scared to go to England, so we didn’t go, which is a regret. I just wanted to prove to myself I was good enough. I’d just got divorced and was wondering what to do with my life. Royce Simmons was looking for players. I’d played against Australia and a couple of the Aussies told him about me. I didn’t count on the quota, which helped. I played a few games but wasn’t fit enough. They sent me to a personal trainer, which changed my body completely. They wanted me for the next season and I played with some great players. The crowd was fabulous. I’ve never met a crowd like that. Richard Gay was an excellent fullback. I wanted to stay but they didn’t want to pay me properly. I went to Featherstone because of Steve Martin. It was a pity he got sacked a few weeks later.
What happened at Featherstone?
We were unlucky. We lost too many base players like Andy Currier, Martin Pearson, and Iva Ropati in the first few months. When we lost Pearson, it stuffed everything up. Mark Aston was good next to Pearson but not without him. The young players didn’t have the maturity the be in that sort of pressure. If we hadn’t lost those players, we could have got to Wembley. I didn’t like the coach who replaced Steve, David Ward, but the rest of the club was great. Brendan Tuuta was an absolute warrior, one of the best and toughest players I played alongside.
I only stayed for one season because I had a kid back home who was four years old. I’d proved to myself I was good enough. I’m lucky enough to have played my passion, but sport isn’t real life, and you have to get back to reality.
Why didn’t you play in the 1995 World Cup?
I was just sick of the French Federation. I’d been there for nearly ten years. It isn’t easy to get in, but when you’re in, it’s hard to get out. It kills the French game that young players don’t get a go, so I was happy to stand aside.
I had three years at Limoux and they were my last club. I gave my word of honour to the mayor that they would be my last club. Even though he was dead by then, I kept my word. Paul Sironen came to Villeneuve around that time, and he was a great asset to the French game, along with Freddie Banquet.
I broke my back in 1997. I spent three months lying on a bed. I had over 20 fractures, so in 1999 I realised I didn’t have to carry on. I still feel the pain from all those breaks – ribs, thumb, ankle, cheekbone, vertebrae and my elbow – that was a hard one. I’d have liked to have got into the coaching system, but I say what I think, and they don’t like that in France.
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