France to benefit from flood of eligible foreigners

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The Independent Online

The French national rugby team could soon benefit from a raft of top-class South Africans and other nationalities plying their trade in the Top 14 and now eligible for selection for 'Les Bleus'.

Rugby union's world governing body, the IRB, specifies that players seeking international honours must have either been born in said country, have one of their parents or grandparents born there, or lived there for 36 months prior to initial selection.



Players must also not have appeared for the national, 'A' or sevens team of another country.



All that bodes well for France, with an embarrassment of riches coming through the French first division.



They include hard-hitting South African back-row forwards Antonie Claassen and Gerhard Vosloo, and also Mark Gasnier and Sonny Bill Williams - top-notch rugby league converts who played for Australia and New Zealand in the 13-man code.



That quartet, along with a dozen others, have or are close to having served their residency period and could realistically be decked out in the colours of the Tricolors in the near future.



That scenario was not one that sat happily France coach Marc Lievremont - at least at first.



"When I started out as national coach two years ago, it was not a question for me of picking foreign players for the national team," Lievremont told L'Equipe sports newspaper.



"That came out of a question of principle and because there was an enormous potential among young French players. I was holding on to this French identity in the national team."



He added: "Last year (French rugby federation president) Pierre Camou asked me to draw up a team made up solely of foreign players.



"It seemed like a snapshot to me, one which wouldn't go much further. This season, my point of view is not totally the same.



"I'm not saying that I'm ready for a complete turnaround, but let's say that I'm struggling to find the equivalent among young French players of the generation of (Fulgence) Ouedraogo, (Francois) Trinh-Duc, (Fabien) Barcella, (Maxime) Mermoz and (Maxime) Medard...



"It is there but I don't think that it'd be a good idea to throw them up against the South Africans or All Blacks come November."



That said, Lievremont insisted that for the moment he had his eye on just one foreigner in the Top 14.



"I watch all the Top 14 games on the television, I visit stadiums and from what I've seen, the only one I really like is Brive's Antonie Claassen," he said.



"Of course, there's Vosloo, but for me it's Claassen who corresponds to what I look for in the back row."



Claassen responded by stressing that his objective of playing French league rugby was to go on to play for the France team, adding that turning out for the Springboks was not an option.



"It's very flattering for Marc Lievremont to speak of me," Claassen said. "My goal is the France team. If it wasn't, I wouldn't be playing in France.



"When I was young, I watched the Five Nations and supported France.



"I've spoken about it with Gerhard Vosloo: it would be interesting to play at that level. I don't have any contact with the Springboks. I don't think they need me. They have a lot of good players in this position. And me, I'm in France!"



Vosloo also has aspirations to play for his adopted homeland in the same way Stade Francais prop Pieter de Villiers and centre Brian Liebenberg have done.



"You've always got to have an objective in your head," said the former Cats flanker who was named alongside Argentinian Juan Martin Hernandez and All Black Byron Kelleher as the three best players of the 2008 season.



"On leaving South Africa, I wanted to become the best blindside in the French championship. And to play for France."



Two other South Africans, Eric Melville and Dries van Heerden, have also turned out in French colours and Vosloo said: "If others have done it, you can still hope!"

Sourced from: The New Zealand Herald

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