Rugby Union: France's new household name

Stephen Brenkley speaks to the Brive believer with no fear of the enemy fortress
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The Independent Online
Three months ago he was all but untried, untested and unknown. Now, France are trusting that Christophe Lamaison can bring the house down at Twickenham next Saturday.

Two caps into an international career which threatened never to start, Lamaison has already paraded a series of scintillating passing and running skills. He is fully aware of France's recent history at Twickenham and utterly undaunted by it.

"It will be difficult, of course. There are no easy games against England," he said. "But many of the French side have never played at Twickenham, so they have never been beaten there. I don't think it will concern us. I hope to enjoy the experience."

Lamaison expects a flowing contest, full of tries. "Our assistant coach, Pierre Villepreux, has made his position clear. We will be expected to run and that suits me. There could be some nerves, but maybe I won't have time for nerves."

The centre, who can also turn his twinkling hands and feet to outside- half and full-back, laughed gently when asked if he liked England and the English. His most recent experience of them should have given him little to fear. In the Heineken European Cup final last month his sublime running was instrumental in securing victory for Brive against Leicester.

In France, where they still have a permanent production line of dazzlingly gifted three-quarters, Lamaison, 25, had been considered nothing out of the ordinary. His move last summer from Bayonne to the ambitious Brive club may have transformed him, but only a string of injuries to others has given him a place in the national side.

After being called up for the second Test against South Africa in December he was absent for the opening Five Nations fixture against Ireland. Recalled last Saturday to face Wales, he was explosive. Starting at outside-half, he eventually moved to his more natural position of centre, but wherever he was on the field he was incisive and clever. He created two of France's four tries and ought to have scored one himself but for an inexplicable slip when he was in the clear.

"I'm enjoying my rugby very much at Brive," he said. "But I'm also tired because we have a lot of games. I would say probably too many. Every one of them seems to be important and it's impossible to concentrate on the next international too much because Brive have a big game first."

The big game in question was yesterday against the touring New Zealand side Auckland Blues. Exhibition stuff, perhaps, but the significance of a contest between the Super 12 champions and the European Cup winners should not be underrated. The winners will not hesitate to call themselves world champions.

"It will be another excellent experience for me going to Twickenham in what has been a memorable season so far," said Lamaison. "We have a chance, we know that and we will be attacking." You can probably put la maison on that.

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