Bastareaud right player to lead way for French
For many New Zealand rugby supporters, France captain Mathieu Bastareaud will be best known for his exploits in Wellington in 2009, when, as a 20-year-old, he lied about an after-hours street assault.
It was obviously big news at the time, bringing into international focus as it did the relative safety of New Zealand’s capital and it got to the stage where Prime Minister John Key was involved. In reality Bastareaud’s cut eye and bruised face came as a result of a drunken fall in his hotel room.
Bastareaud has long been a troubled soul. Recently he was accused of making homophobic slurs while playing for his club Toulon and in 2014, shortly before his autobiography Tete Haute (Head Held High) was published, he said following a defeat: “I’m a zombie. I think that now I’ve come to the end of the road.”
He clearly hadn’t and for that we can all be thankful. Now he is the captain of a team that few outside France will believe can beat the All Blacks at Eden Park tomorrow, the first of three tests. Perhaps it took time playing alongside former All Blacks midfielder Ma’a Nonu to bring out the best in Bastareaud, a similar player in many ways.
Because, as many Northern Hemisphere writers have suggested, that uncertainty is a world away from Bastareaud’s rampaging style.
Weighing about 120kg, Bastareaud, who has played 45 tests, has the ability to put his team on the front foot one way or another. He has always been big, maybe too much so, but that also makes him the player he is.
Former England first five Johnny Wilkinson described his former Toulon club-mate as a “superhuman force”, and wrote the foreword to Bastareaud’s autobiography, including the line: “I remain convinced the best is yet to come for him.”
Englishman Dave Attwood, a Bath lock, spent a month on loan at Toulon and crossed paths with Bastareaud and told the Guardian: “The fans are obsessed with him, he’s a cult hero. It’s a team of rock stars, but when he speaks, everyone listens and that says a lot about the man.”