Shortly before three o’clock last Tuesday afternoon, Christophe Dominici climbed some 20 metres onto the roof of a disused army barracks and fell to his death.
That he chose a historic building on the edge of a national park famous for its panoramic views of Paris below seemed somehow to make his apparent suicide all the more tragic given the natural beauty of the setting. The Domaine National de Saint-Cloud has been a French treasure since the Middle Ages.
It is famous for Marie Antoinette’s rose garden which she made more than 200 years ago during her reign as the last Queen of France; for Napoleon’s Palace destroyed during the Franco-Prussian war in 1870 and the Sully Barracks built some 50 years earlier by King Charles X.
What drove one of the best-loved French players of the professional era to end it all at the age of 48 will probably never be known and yet some who knew him as a troubled soul from the days of his pomp feared for him.
‘Domi’ had been fighting his demons virtually since childhood. As the tributes flowed from friends and former teammates, one word seemed to keep recurring: fragility.
“He was very confident but also very fragile,’’ said Max Guazzini, the flamboyant former owner of the revolutionary Parisian club Stade Francais with whom Dominici won five Top 14 titles. “We must remember the 1999 World Cup semi-final against the All Blacks.”
On the rugby field in general and that day in particular, nobody questioned his courage, mentally or physically. Those of us who were there at Twickenham that Halloween Sunday 21 years ago to witness the greatest World Cup match staged on this side of the Equator will never forget how France, 10-24 down to the All Blacks at half-time, found the nerve to score 33 unanswered points and win 43-31.
During the break, Dominici was the one who dared to believe they had the Kiwis on the run.
“I have looked into the eyes of Jonah Lomu,’’ he told the team at halftime. “They are shit scared of us.’’
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