Place of Birth: Caracas
Date of Birth: August 31, 1958
Position: Full back/Wing
Internationals: 93 caps between 1980 and 1991
Inducted: England v France (March 11, 2007)
Serge Blanco and every one of his team-mates involved in possibly THE try of the modern era, acquired legendary status in March 1991. Fittingly it was during the France full back’s final Championship match of his career.
According to some pundits at the time, the opening try of the match – scored by France left winger Philippe Saint André – was the greatest try in the history of international rugby. Presumably the Barbarians’ effort in 1973 does not fall into the full international category. It was certainly the most wonderful try scored at Twickenham in an international, that’s for sure.
It started fairly innocuously. England had taken the lead in the second minute through the first of full back Simon Hodgkinson’s four penalty goals.
In the 13th minute he lined up another, but unfortunately pushed it to the right and France scrum-half Pierre Berbizier, subsequently the coach of Italy, gathered the ball behind his line.
He hung on to the ball for a couple of seconds, presumably debating the merit of touching down for the drop-out, and the England players half turned away, anticipating that decision.
But Blanco came on a looping run behind Berbizier, called for the ball and France were off. First Jean-Baptiste Lafond, then Didier Cambérabéro took the ball on down the right wing.
The ball was moved inside to Philippe Sella, who returned it to Cambérabéro. The fly half chipped, re-gathered then put in a perfect cross kick to the middle of the field which Saint André, who had come scorching up, collected on the bounce before storming over the line to touch down under the posts to round off 17 seconds of true Gallic flair.
But Blanco had not finished. He and Sella then conjured up a magnificent try, almost as brilliant as that first one, for centre Franck Mesnel right at the death. It even ensured that Rory Underwood’s superb – and crucial – try on the half-hour was well and truly overshadowed, even though it was the score that put England in charge and clinched for them the Grand Slam – the first of a memorable pair for Geoff Cooke and his squad.
Blanco is a man of few words when speaking of himself and his glittering career. (He is somewhat more forthcoming when it comes to rugby politics.) All he would permit himself to say about the two tries was: “I remember the match and the tries as if it was yesterday.
“There are matches which stay with you for ever, and which send you off the pitch with an enormous sense of satisfaction, no matter what the result. This was one of those matches.”
Given that Blanco’s record at Twickenham during his 93-cap, 11-year career boasted three wins and a draw in half a dozen visits, it is probably not surprising that he has fond memories of the place. He recalled another French try at Twickenham that has stayed with him: “It was in 1987,” said Blanco, “and on this occasion France won and Sella scored a try from an interception.”
Sella anticipated a pass from England scrum half Richard Hill to Rob Andrew, collected the ball, and then ran 65 metres for the telling score.
Indeed Blanco has nothing but good things to say about Twickenham. “In those days it was one of those stadia which, thanks to the proximity of the spectators to the pitch, created a special atmosphere, unique to the place.”
In fact, Blanco’s strangest memory of the ground was playing for the Barbarians against Harlequins, and what struck him was that there were only 7,000 spectators in the echoing stadium.
But Blanco’s conclusion about Twickenham is: “It seems to me that all the matches played at Twickenham are memorable ones, whether they are won or lost. But this is something that can only be appreciated when one’s playing career is over: then a player comes to understand that in playing at the ground he has played a very small part in the history of rugby union.”
Now Blanco has been accorded a grander place in the history of the game, as an inductee on the Wall of Fame. “It is a signal honour and I am proud to have been considered for this by the English.”
Article by Dai Llewellyn