Philippe Sella- the finest of French centres and one of the best of all time


Everything brilliant about French rugby is exemplified by its greatest centre, Philippe Sella.

The incisive running lines, tough defence and athleticism were fundamental to Sella’s game over thirteen consecutive international seasons. He was a beautiful player to watch and formed great centre partnerships over time with Didier Codorniou, Denis Charvet, Marc Andrieu, Franck Mesnel and Thierry Lacroix.

Remarkably, Sella accumulated 111 caps in his career, which was a record held, until surpassed by Englishman Jason Leonard. He was the first player to achieve 100 caps and is one of only five players to have scored a try in every game during a Five Nations season.

Sella’s were uncomplicated times and his prime ambitions were to play with a rugby ball and share it with teammates, nothing more. A simple formula can often be more advantageous than the overly complicated rugby we see today.

French flair is no better illustrated than the “End of the World” try scored against the All Blacks in 1994 at Eden Park. Sella featured in that sweeping movement that led to a team try, inspired by a superb pass by Jean-Luc Sadourny. As they say, when the French are on, they are on!

If you are feeling a little down about rugby in general, just put on a highlights reel of French rugby and that will soon cheer you up. There were many brilliant French backs, but to consistently perform at the highest level for thirteen seasons was a remarkable effort by Sella.

Sella was born 1962 in Tonneins, France and began his football career as a rugby league player before switching to union. His natural toughness came with his rural upbringing and his early club career was spent with Agen from 1982 to 1995. His debut for France was against Romania in 1982 with a new star fulfilling his potential.

When the professional era began, Sella moved to the Saracens Rugby Club in England in 1996, along with Australian Michael Lynagh. The two encouraged younger players to join the club. His trademark features of rugby experience, vision and defence were utilized at Saracens.

Sella became recognized as the world’s best centre of the 1980s and 1990s and was famously described by Jacques Fouroux as having the “strength of a bull but the touch of a piano player.” My favourite try was his intercept against England in 1987 when he jinked past the last two defenders on the way to a 70-metre effort. A low light may be his flattening of Australian lock Peter Fitzsimons from behind during an ugly brawl in 1990.

Former French Rugby player Phillippe Sella (Photo by Adam Davy/PA Images via Getty Images)

There is considerable respect from All Black fans towards the French and unsurprisingly, Sella lists his career highlights as being the World Cup final in 1987 and a series win over the All Blacks in 1994. I can assume the amateur time in international rugby sat well with Philippe Sella, as memories of past players, countries visited and shared moments provided self-satisfaction.

His last game for France was against England at the 1995 Rugby World Cup and his full retirement came in 1998 when at the age of thirty-six he returned to France from Saracens.

Sella became a member of the International Rugby Hall of Fame in 1999 and was inducted into the IRB Hall of Fame in 2008. He has worked as a Physical Education teacher, managed the French under-20 side and was a regular face on French TV channel Canal+.

Three Rugby World Cups and 111 Tests are statistical evidence of a magnificent career for Sella, but he will be remembered more for his wide range of skills, with the word silky springing to mind. Few players have the touch of genius upon them, yet Sella was certainly one.


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