Thursday, February 11, 2010

Six Nations 2010: France's Mathieu Bastareaud goes up against Brian O'Driscoll

At Murrayfield he confronted his demons and scored two tries, and now in Paris Mathieu Bastareaud will face the world's best centre – Brian O'Driscoll.

It will be a pivotal clash in probably the key game of the 2010 Six Nations. Bastareaud is beginning to make the headlines for the right reasons again, for which he and France are grateful.

That brace of tries against Scotland has got the French rugby public back onside – there were many who felt his recall was premature after the disgrace he brought on Les Bleus by his false accusations of an assault by a street gang in New Zealand. A command performance against the Irish would surely see all sins forgiven.

It should be a personal clash to savour at the Stade de France, the ground where 10 years ago a young O'Driscoll – 21, as Bastareaud is now – announced himself to the rugby world at large with a match-winning hat-trick of tries against for Ireland against the French.

O'Driscoll has reigned supreme for a decade since then, but you fancy Bastareaud is a worthy opponent and an individual capable of being the benchmark midfield player in the Six Nations well into this next decade. A changing of the guard possibly? O'Driscoll will resist, like all great

"Mark is a very young man and his actions in New Zealand were those of an immature young man not used to the responsibilities of representing his country abroad," France coach Marc Lièvremont said. "It was a difficult personal time for him and he paid a high price but now he has been reintegrated into the squad. He has been rehabilitated and we start again.

"Mathieu is a wiser man. He has apologised to everybody who needed apologising to many times over. He cannot apologise any more, the incident is over. He can only play good rugby and conduct himself in the appropriate fashion. His abilities have always been evident and now he is a hungry man with points to prove, which is always good in a player."

A cousin of the France and Arsenal centre-back, William Gallas, Bastareaud burst on to the scene at the 2007 Under-19 World Cup in Belfast and was always going to be fast-tracked into the senior team. A product of Créteil rugby club and humble SU Massy of the French third division, Bastareaud was eventually signed by Stade Français.

Built like a dump truck and weighing 17st 7lb with power to add, Bastareaud can claim to be the heaviest centre playing Test rugby. He has, however, surprising pace, which sometimes catches out opponents steeling themselves to tackle a straightforward battering ram, and he also possesses a better than average pair of hands, which gives him other options.

"We are going to polish up our report to Paddy O'Brien [head of the International Rugby Board's referee commission]. Refereeing is a factor of the game we can't control but we'll still try to solve the problem."

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