Former rugby star on trial for killing wife in drunken rage

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A former French rugby international went on trial yesterday for shooting his wife five times in a drunken rage at a party.

Known as "the quiet man of French rugby", Marc Cecillon, 47, was accused of killing his wife Chantal with a magnum revolver in front of 60 guests after she refused to leave with him.

The former player, a forward who won 46 caps for France, has admitted shooting Chantal with a .357 handgun in August 2004 but said he had only wanted to intimidate her, not kill her.

Cecillon was overpowered by friends and told police he was so drunk that he remembered nothing of the incident at a barbecue near their home in the Isere departement, near Grenoble. They had been married for 24 years.

The former loose forward, who played international rugby from 1988 to 1995 and captained the French side five times, had apparently been drinking all afternoon. At around 11pm the hostess tried to persuade him to eat something but he responded by slapping her around the face.

He was asked to leave and when Chantal refused to go with him, he returned with a Taurus Brazil Magnum revolver which he had bought on a rugby tour of South Africa in 1992, and returned to the party on his Harley Davidson.

Guests watched as he strode up and fired five shots, hitting his wife in the head and chest at point blank range. It took a dozen men to restrain him and he was found to have six times the legal limit of alcohol in his blood for driving in France.

In court yesterday, Daniele Broudeur, a character profiler and expert witness, said that Cecillon was a "very strong colossus on the outside but extremely weak on the inside, always closed, not knowing how to express what he felt."

Investigators said Cecillon, became an alcoholic after his retirement from rugby in 2003.

His daughters, Angelique, 26, and Celine 24, who have not spoken to him since the incident, appeared as co-plaintiffs in the case. They told police their father's alcoholism had turned family life into hell. Cecillon told investigators he loved his wife but said the two fought often and she had threatened to leave him.

Bernard Lapasset, head of the French Rugby Federation, told the court: "He was ... a model of loyalty never suspended in 46 matches."

Former French rugby fullback Serge Blanco was among the other prominent members of the rugby community due to testify. The trial continues.