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Bastareaud puts New Zealand embarrassment behind him

Mathieu Bastareaud is ready to focus on playing international rugby again after causing the French team huge embarrassment by lying to police about being assaulted in New Zealand last summer.

Bastareaud initially claimed that he had sustained facial injuries by being attacked by several men following a night out during the team's tour in June, and it quickly escalated into a political affair between the nations.

Bastareaud, who has been doing community service work, was excluded from France's matches against South Africa, Samoa and New Zealand in November. But the burly centre now hopes to play in his country's opening Six Nations match, against Scotland on Monday (NZT).

"A new adventure is beginning, you have to stop talking about the past all day long," Bastareaud, who plays for Stade Francais, said. "I feel stronger. I am at ease, relieved and I want to move forward. I want to play in the (2011) World Cup and win the (Six Nations) tournament."

Bastareaud's morale dropped to rock bottom when the late-night incident blew up into a full-scale political saga, eventually prompting France Prime Minister Francois Fillon to send a letter of apology to his New Zealand counterpart John Key in July.

"When you have nothing left, you only have your family around you," said Bastareaud, who has played four times for France under coach Marc Lievremont. "I had to start everything from scratch."

The 21-year-old, who is Arsenal and France footballer William Gallas' cousin, took flak from all sides. Some said he should never play for France again.

"I thought about stopping rugby, yes. It crossed my mind," Bastareaud said at France's Marcoussis training camp. "I won't ever forget all that was said and written ... I will never forget it (but) I am living with it better."

Bastareaud suffered a suspected broken eye socket and needed stitches to close facial cuts after France's 14-10 loss to New Zealand in the second test of its southern hemisphere tour.

Bastareaud claimed he had been attacked by up to five men in central Wellington in the early hours of the morning. The French press speculated that he had been fighting his teammates, while Bastareaud said he was drunk, slipped and fell face-first onto a bedside table in his room.

He praised Lievremont for ignoring the huge clamours to permanently discard him.

"I had a chat with Marc and he said that I would be in contention if I started playing at a decent level again," Bastareaud said. "I just tried to concentrate on what I had to do on the field."

Sourced from: The New Zealand Herald