From Dust to Giants

Lauren Javerzac is a French rugby journeyman but not in the traditional sense of the rugby player changing clubs multiple times. Since he ended his playing career in France, Laurent setup a organization called “Rugby de Poussiere” and has spent his vacation time in areas as rugby-remote as Mali, Burkina Faso, Turkey, Czech Republic and now Cambodia, to coach and develop rugby in nations where the sport is in its relative infancy or grassroots. We discussed his rugby roots, his recent trip to the seaside of Kep on Cambodia’s western coast for a ladies rugby camp and why rugby goes hand in hand with youth development.

Lauren: I have been a rugby man since I was ten years old because my father decided to bring me to the rugby field in my hometown of Bergerac in the south west of France, and I played in this town until I was 20 years old, to the level of Federale 1, the best amateur level before it turned  professional. I started playing in the position of hooker but played flanker later in my career (number 6). For my studies I went to Bordeaux, it’s a town 100km from Bergerac, so I decided to play near Bordeaux at the level of Federale 2 where I played flanker for 10 years.

I finished playing rugby 7 years ago as I was knocked out with concussion twice from tackles and had headaches and decided to stop, and also I have two children so I became a father. I was sad to stop playing  rugby like that but I began a new life as a father. During this time I looked at how I could still be involved in rugby. I had a friend in Niger, in Africa, and he asked me if I would like to help him to teach rugby, in 2006. I had passed my certificates around this time to become a coach, Level One and Level Two so it was a interesting opportunity for me.

Laurent Javerzac - Kampuchea Balopp

Lauren Javerzac coaching on the beach in Kep

Coaching during two weeks in one year I decided to go to Niger and help my lifelong friend. For three weeks I found it incredible to teach rugby in Africa and travel at the same time. So afterwards in 2008 my friend called me again from Mali. At that time I was a sports teacher, for the town so I asked the Mayor (my boss) about the opportunity to go again for 2 weeks to Africa to coach rugby. My boss worked for a group or organization to aid Burkina Faso, so he agreed but only if I went to Burkina Faso and he would arrange for me to visit there.

I agreed and I visited Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger over three weeks, traveling on the road so it was very interesting, seeing a lot of culture, different countries and each time I would bring some equipment for rugby development, like rugby balls, jerseys and I coached the national team of Niger for a short while too. In Niger the level was good, like compared to France, maybe at the level of Federale Two, or a good Federale Three team. They have some big guys over there.

Later I was asked by my boss if I would like to go to Turkey, but this time to work with students to learn rugby, so I try to find a local place that’s trying to teach rugby and where the students live together. It wasn’t as professional as here (Cambodia) but I only had a short time and I keep in touch with them and their monitor their development and when I can I will send money, but not a lot like, 100 Euro for a month so they have to find a solution to keep coaching the children in rugby. The age of the children was around 8-12 years old I think.

I decided to start an organization and it’s called “Rugby de Poussiere”, it means rugby of the dust, like the sand, very small. In rugby in Africa we talk about when you play on sand, it causes dust and it was funny because we would play in one spot and then we would need to move over there and say “oh its finished, it’s impossible to play here” and move to another spot. So it was funny to call my organization after this.

But I also have a job and family and I like to organize events so I can’t spend as much time as I would like to focus on the organization. Also when I do these trips, I do them on my own when friends invite me as I don’t know what to expect, the second reason for the organization is I like to develop rugby for the little people. To be a man you start small like dust but you can build it up, start small and be big.

So what brought you to Cambodia?

Lauren: JB (Kampuchea Balopp Program Development Manager) had seen someone wearing a shirt with my logo in Bordeaux and he emailed me on my blog and he said he was coming to Cambodia and working with rugby development. So we met, and I think two days later he was off to Cambodia. So we kept in contact by email and when he came back to France for a visit we talked about Kampuchea Balopp. And when I see his photos on email and Facebook I talked to him about a possible expedition so when he came back to France we met up and discussed me coming over here and we decided to do the trip again only for two weeks.

So the plan is do this every year and visit different countries?

Laurent: Yes, but it’s not easy as I have my family too so after these two weeks I do them on my own, I make sure I have one week still with the family and then I return to my job, so I always have to think about this; my family and my job so it’s not easy so I have to think ahead and see what I can do next year as I already am thinking about Burkina Faso and Turkey but I also would like to visit a new country.

Lets discuss your time in Cambodia, what have you done since being here?

Laurent: Yes well Kep was a very exciting adventure, and not just for me, for everybody. The girls, when I left them they said I have to come back, cos when I am here they get to visit Kep and visit the sea and so my organization helped pay for the meals for the weekend, so now I represent the sea for the girls(laughing). But I also like to coach girls rugby, they play with their brains and guys like to play with muscle. But you have to explain the details all of the time cos if they don’t understand they don’t want to play, so you have to talk a lot. But it’s interesting to play with them as they always look to escape the tackle and try to play with the ball more than boys, who like to fight.

What was the age of the girls and how many made the trip?

Laurent: I think maybe 15-21, 22 years old, most were around 18, and there were 20 girls in total. We did this with Pour un Sourire d’Enfant (PSE). They helped out with the weekend by paying for the driver and the bus. It’s a short stay; two weeks for me, as all the time you have to take in everything, all the time and speaking about rugby and you have to think in your head about all of the differences you see in this country and your own country. It’s hot and the mosquitoes at night and the noise so you don’t sleep a lot but I know that and it’s only two weeks so it’s ok.

PSE Ladies Rugby - Kampuchea Balopp

The PSE Ladies having fun and learning new skills in Kep

Laurent: I don’t think that some people were very surprised that girls play rugby. I find that in Cambodia for the people everything is normal and is ok. Even when I visit the markets and walk around people won’t stare at me not like when I was in Africa, or ask me for money. In Kep, ok we played rugby and a lot of people would never have seen a ball like that but no-one asked questions. And it’s cool cos you can play rugby with the girls and its natural, no restrictions and it was very good. And to play rugby in the sand and you have to play standing up and you can tackle and run and run into the sea it was a lot o fun. So it was interesting for the girls to play on the beach and it was incredible for the girls so it was a exciting weekend. And the girls had to learn to live together. For some girls they were new to the group so I saw during the training before the weekend that some girls were questioning some of the others, but they learn to live together and bond and they did.

Outside of Kep what else did you do while you have been in Cambodia?

Laurent: I joined the four Cambodian coaches of Kamouchea Balopp in their different training sessions in Phnom Penh. It was not always very easy as they know rugby and teaching rugby but there was the difficulty with the language at times, so in the beginning I would just watch and observe when they ran the exercises with the children and look at what they do and afterwards with Pierre (Pierres Yves Tondeur, the development officer of French partner association Terres en Melees.) we would discuss the sessions and what the coaches did, and he is a great guy and listens to what I had to say and we have the same idea of rugby, the idea of movement, don’t play on the floor, play standing up. So I didn’t want to interfere in the beginning but over the days I gave my feedback and explained what I and we would like to see, JB has the same view as me and Pierre about rugby. It’s not easy as they (the Cambodian coaches) have not had as much exposure and the representation is here new, I have played rugby for 30 years and always watch on TV and have experience so I have some good advice to give them without upsetting them.

Sometime we have to explain to them if something was not good or if they have not prepared the session, as they can say to me “Well who are you to give advice, you have only been here two weeks” so I have to explain to them and be modest and we often use a joke to explain something serious. I think they understand though and Pierre asked them to play in a way and I enforced this so I think it was easier to them to take this on board.

What benefits do you think the children learn form playing rugby?

Laurent: I think rugby is a sport that’s very complete, as you have to play with your legs, your arms your brain you have to be courageous and have solidarity and be together so there are a lot of values. I think it suits all type of players, you can be big and strong and hold the ball, or small and fast so you can run, so it’s a interesting mix and you have to be together. Rugby can really help with this in life and being together on the field and together off the field and let them (the children) know they are not alone.

What are your views on what Kampuchea Balopp is doing?

Laurent: For Kampuchea Balopp I hope that it stays a school for development of rugby. That it doesn’t become only “I come with the ball and let us play rugby and that’s it”, it’s important that all the children, they need to improve in rugby, the coaches are of rugby or and not amateur, they have to be professional and Kampuchea Balopp has to be like that, in their minds that they run this professionally and we speak about rugby and tournaments all the teams have to improve all the time; girls, boys and Kampuchea Balopp can help with this. It’s important the idea is not lost and I know you have a lot to do, increase the exposure and look for money and funding but it’s very important what you do. And Pierre is here and I am here and we hope to use our external views and  give external advise on what not to do and what to be careful of. We give some fresh ideas.

What do you think is the biggest challenge?

Laurent: I would like to see that the ladies rugby team from Cambodia can play against Laos and Thailand, maybe Hong Kong why not? I know you have to find money for the organization. But I hope that the for all the children at Kampuchea Balopp, they will grow up to play in tournaments and play month after month and have regions develop like Kep vs Battambang and its important for the  children to travel and play the sport as many of the children haven’t seen Siem Reap or Kep. So it’s about the relationships and the smile and giving them the chance to visit the sea and move around. We love this sport but it’s not the most important, it’s the other skills and opportunities it can teach.

What were you most surprised by with rugby in Cambodia?

Laurent: All the children that Kampuchea Balopp is involved with, working with 12 NGOS, and it’s very important but be careful it gets too big and be strict; often it’s not easy for the coaches to prepare the sessions, they need the time to prepare and play, so the group was important. Just before I met you today we came from a training session which was incredible, where the children are from a NGO with disabilities and play rugby. But they smiled all of the time and some were deaf and had other challenges, and I hope one day here they can play a mixed tournament, those with disabilities and those who don’t, if rugby can do this it would be a great objective for Kampuchea Balopp and internationally.

Laurent - Kampuchea Balopp

Laurent receiving his Kampuchea Balopp coaches shirt from the Kampuchea Balopp team + Pierre for all his hard work

Laurent: I would love to come back, maybe for an international trip for the Cambodian teams, to help them. I hope the coaches learn more English and we can communicate better. I would like the sport to stay fun and nobody get hurt and all the day I pray that nobody gets hurt so it’s important the coaches all the time talk about security in the tackle and the scrum as I wouldn’t like one day for JB write to me to say a child has been hurt. So they need to keep their smiles as they love to smile all the time. I really enjoyed my two weeks here.

All Photos Credit to Bing Guan

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