The flowers that are still respectfully untouched on the perimeter fence outside the Stade Aurillacois Cantal Auvergne might have withered, but the feelings remain both raw and intense.
"No one is perfect, but Louis... he was close," says Maxime Fucina, before lifting his sleeve to reveal a tattoo in tribute to his former team-mate.
"He was a brother to me," says the Aurillac full-back.
"An amazing boy. Always smiling. Taught me so much. I will love him for the rest of my life."
Seven months have now passed since Louis Fajfrowski died in a room just down the corridor from where we speak and, while just thinking about his friend prompts both tears at his sudden passing and laughter at their shared memories, Fucina wants also to convey a wider message.
"I don't know where rugby is going," he says. "I hope the league, federation and World Rugby will do something because it is scary. Louis was on the pitch. He asked nothing of anyone. He enjoyed rugby. One match and he is dead."
The wider context is startling.
While each circumstance was unique and hasty conclusions should be resisted, Fajfrowski is still one of four young French rugby players to die in the space of just eight months. Fatalities also in South Africa and Samoa since September have further intensified a debate about the safety and sheer physicality of the sport. Dr Jean Chazal, a French neurosurgeon based in Clermont-Ferrand, warned previously that he feared rugby deaths.
"The injuries we see today are more like road traffic accidents," he says.
"The man who plays rugby today is heavier and runs faster. The shocks are stronger. It is a very big inflated engine on a chassis that was not designed to support it. These muscular players have the same bones, joints, tendons, internal organs, rib cage, brain and heart. It's a public health problem."
Those most closely touched by recent tragedies do not necessarily all share Chazal's stark assessment but, in travelling around France over recent weeks, the sometimes catastrophic and brutal human impact is unmistakable.
"He said, 'I'm OK, but it was a hard tackle'"
Aurillac is a remote town of just over 26,000 in southern France and its jewel is a rugby team good enough to be playing in the D2 professional second tier of the French game.
Fucina was 21 when he arrived last summer and joined a team containing Fajfrowski, also 21, whom he knew from various representative sides. Playing for France was one shared ambition, but they had more in common."He enjoyed life, never stressed, never complained and was a very good player," says Fucina.
"We were there for each other. We would play Fifa. He loved hip-hop music and African cooking."
Fucina had been substituted by the time a summer friendly against Rodez had entered the last 10 minutes and the ball was passed to Fajfrowski inside his own 22-yard line.
"Their No 6 came as he was preparing to receive it," says Fucina.
Fajfrowski was struck across the chest and down for between five and 10 minutes before coming off. Witnesses agree it was a strong, but not unusual tackle.
"I went straight over," says Fucina. "He said, 'I'm OK, but it was a hard tackle'." Fajfrowski became sleepy and nauseous. He was taken into the medical room where he suffered three cardiac arrests. "He woke up, then asleep again. The last time I was in the corridor with his girlfriend."
Fajrowski and Margot Mouminoux had been dating for three years.
"I was crying. She was screaming. We waited maybe one hour. We all knew. The doctor opened the door and said he was dead."
At this point, Fucina promised his friend he would take care of Margot and that he would do his best to play for France. He then walked back out onto the pitch and lay down on his back in tears. An autopsy later recorded a verdict of accidental death from "lethal fibrillation" following "precordial chest trauma".
Margot would post a new photograph of Fajfrowski on Instagram every day for the next three months. After two more players had died, there was also a poignant message.
"And it goes on," she wrote.
"When is it going to stop?"
'The death of my son is not normal'
Around 150 kilometres north-east of Aurillac is the rural village of Billom. The population is less than 5,000 and the rugby club is also very much its focal point. It was in May last year that Adrien Descrulhes, the 17-year-old son of the club treasurer, was struck during a victory against Blanzat-Châteaugay.
It was described by witnesses as "a normal game action" and, having been dizzy but not unconscious, Descrulhes came off after 55 minutes. He attended a club barbecue later that evening, but is reported to have felt sick and experienced headaches before he went to bed and later died in his sleep. An autopsy found that a haemorrhage had been caused by a traumatic brain injury with fracture.
There is also no easy way to describe the death of Nicolas Chauvin, an 18-year-old flanker for the Paris-based Stade Francais Espoirs. He was caught within a two-man tackle in a December match against Bordeaux Begles and suffered a heart attack, a broken neck and brain damage. Chauvin underwent emergency surgery, but died three days later.
Nicolas Chauvin's father, Philippe appeared last month at the University Paris Descartes to speak about rugby safety. There was a standing ovation among the 200 people present at the end of an eight-minute speech in which he espoused traditional team values, but warned that rugby had given way to what he called "the show" and decried how the human aspect was being lost.
"The death of my son, following a fracture and tearing of the second cervical, is not normal," he said. "It is similar to a road accident or paragliding.
"Life is precious - it must not be played with."
Marc Lievremont, the former France coach, was among those at the conference and he also deplored how the "playful, educational approach" of a sport once defined by "avoidance, intelligence and dexterity" had been physically transformed by "heavy professionalism".
Less information has been released about Nathan Soyeux, a 23-year-old student based in Dijon, who was the fourth young Frenchman to have passed away following a match. He was playing in November against another engineering school as part of a tournament, but died in January, some 43 days later, of which 10 were spent in a coma. Alain Dipanda, the director of his engineering school, was quoted as saying Soyeux had complained of feeling unwell following what was a legal tackle and was later admitted to hospital.
'It feels like they are turning me into a weapon to harm others'
The tragic events of the past year have come as no surprise to Cameron Pierce.
"It's terrible, but I'm surprised there haven't been more accidents or deaths on specifically because of people not being as careful as they should be," he says.
Pierce, who now lives in Bordeaux with his wife Paris, was a Canada international and second-row forward with Pau in France's Top 14, but had his career ended in 2016, aged 25, following a serious concussion. He is 6ft 7in and more than 18 stone, but says that he became "one of the small guys".
The footage of the challenge that ended his career - and how his head violently whiplashes into the ground - is chilling. Much of his story since arriving in France almost a decade ago at the Clermont Ferrand academy is also shocking.
"I came over here to enjoy professionalism," he says. "I used to keep a journal. There is one entry from when I was 19 that says, 'It feels like they are turning me into a weapon to physically harm others'. It's like you were going to war.
"When I played and used to watch, I enjoyed seeing a big hit. Most do. Now I look at it very differently." Pierce did not lose consciousness in what proved to be his last game.
"I knew I was not right," he says. "I was disorientated. Euphoric. Really strange. I can speak French, but I could only express myself in English."
Pierce slept for 14 hours on each of the next two nights, but his symptoms only worsened.
"Migraines, irritable, off balance, memory loss, socially anxious, insomnia, starting sentences and forgetting what I was saying, thinking at a million miles a minute," he says.
"It spiralled out of control to the point of suicidal thoughts. I thought I was going crazy."
A lot of people thought I was making it up. The attitude in rugby back then was that you get your bell rung, you get back up and you keep going.
"It was when Pierce attempted to read a book to his friend's child - and found himself repeating sentences - that he really went proactively in search of answers.
"That brought tears to me eyes. I want a family. It was a moment when I thought I need as much help as I can."
The answers largely came from speaking with athletes across other sports who have suffered brain injuries. A variety of supplements and medications have been hugely beneficial in managing many of the symptoms, but each day must still be carefully planned.
"Your brain starts to function in a different way and it gets rewired," he says.
"Before I was super relaxed, easy going. Now everything is a big deal. I'm OCD. It's hard for me to understand."
'How many more before things start to change?'
It is hugely moving, then, to hear how he and Paris have since got married and continued to work through these issues and the strains on their relationship. Pierce hopes still to realise a lifelong ambition to become a firefighter and is passionate about promoting player safety and concussion awareness. Paris also wants to help partners, relatives and friends in their adjustments.
"The number one thing is listening," she says. "It does get better. You learn how to manage it. There are some rough days and rough weeks, but you can still live a really good, amazing life."
Back in Aurillac and it is fascinating to also hear the perspective of Tom Palmer, the former England lock-forward who is now the club's defence coach.
Fajfrowski's cardiac arrest is described as "a terrible one in a million freak accident", but the heightened awareness brain trauma is something clearly making his generation think.
Palmer estimates he was concussed four or five times in his 19-year professional career, but describes how, "maybe once a season", he would briefly lose consciousness after a tackle and then come round before anyone had noticed.
Like Pierce, he also admits his was an era in which the mantra would be "it's only a headache, toughen up" and the players often defined themselves by their resilience.
"I'm interested in the long-term effects," he says. "I do find now sometimes that my memory isn't what it should be.
"The other week I totally got mixed up on my days and I didn't come into work. I thought it was a day off."
Palmer's lapse could be entirely innocuous. Equally, it prompts a question as to whether sports should be doing far more to monitor, advise and support former players. Pierce's experience hardly provides much comfort.
"At the end of the day you are a commodity," he says. "If you are not performing it's, 'See you later'. You need to take action yourself." A conference has been convened in Paris later this month by World Rugby to consider wider issues of player safety.
The French Rugby Federation will be proposing various changes to the tackling protocol. Other suggestions have been aired, from reducing the number of players to some sort of weight classification. Fucina would like to see tackles lowered below the chest. Palmer wonders whether there should be limits on contact training time. He also likes the ideas of regular CAT scans for neurologists to monitor brain health and allow players to make informed decisions earlier in their career.
"If you have damaged your brain, it might be worth knowing at 25," he says.
For Pierce, improvement in awareness remains critical, especially to the potentially fatal dangers of playing on or returning amid any concussion symptom. He says he has seen athletes in other sports playing with brain bleeds or having seizures go unreported.
"It is astonishing how many concussions go undetected," he says. He also wants sports leagues to invest in neurological facilities with independent experts to manage a participant's recovery.
"It is frustrating because you are trying to speak out, but it is not changing fast enough," says Paris.
"People are still dying. How many more before things start to change?"
Fucina admits he almost stopped playing rugby after Fajfrowski's death.
"You are never ready for something like this," he says. "My life changed. There were so many questions. After, I found the motivation. There is a picture of Louis outside the locker room. I saw it and I was, 'It's for him'. I know in the sky he sees me so I keep going...but it's hard. I hope rugby is going to change. I hope rugby will be smart.
- The Daily Telegraph
Four who died playing the game they loved
Nathan Soyeux, 23
Played for L'Esirem - a Dijon engineering school.Died in January 2019, 43 days after being admitted to hospital following a match for his school. Soyeux's parents described their son as "a kindly young man who will remain in the hearts of those who knew him".
Nicolas Chauvin, 18
Played for Stade Francais Espoirs. Died in December 2018 after suffering a heart attack, broken neck and brain damage following a tackle. Chauvin's father, Philippe, spoke to his son's young team-mates before their next match. "He helped us a lot," said the coach Pascal Pape, a former France forward.
Louis Fajfrowski, 21
Played for Aurillac. Died in August 2018 after the shock of a tackle to his chest caused him to suffer a series of heart attacks.
Adrien Descrulhes, 17
Played for Billom. Died in May 2018 in his sleep following a brain haemorrhage. Had been forced off after being struck during a match the previous day. Emeline Romeuf, who runs the club's website, said: "We think of it all the time. He was very close to us all - a boy we'd known for years. His mother doesn't want to campaign. Her son loved rugby and she doesn't want to see the rules change."
The Daily Telegraph