Never let it be said the French do not know how to forgive. Six months after his faked attack caused a diplomatic storm, Mathieu Bastareaud will start in the Six Nations.
Marc Lièvremont, the France coach, handed the 21-year-old a second chance when naming his XV yesterday for Les Bleus' opening collision at Murrayfield. The centre lost his international place last June after making false claims to New Zealand police that he had been the victim of a racist attack from behind by "four or five men" outside his hotel in Wellington.
Bastareaud later admitted he had sustained a broken eye socket and a cut on his cheek which required four stitches from a drunken fall in his room. He had fabricated the story to escape punishment from team officials. "We hope that what happened helped him to grow up," said Lièvremont. "We just hope he will confirm his good performances with his club [Stade Français] on Sunday."
The quick rehabilitation might just cause raised eyebrows within New Zealand. Such were the widespread concerns caused by the alleged assault – what with New Zealand hosting the Rugby World Cup next year – that the Prime Minister, John Key, issued a public apology and actually wrote to Bastareaud to convey his regret.
When the deceit was revealed – after police investigations eventually located CCTV which showed Bastareaud returning to the hotel uninjured – the French Prime Minster, François Fillon, felt obliged to apologise to Key and reminded his counterpart of the strong relations between the countries. Meanwhile, Bastareaud was given a three-month suspended ban and ordered to do community service with amateur rugby.
In all, Lièvremont made nine changes to the team from the line-up which defeated South Africa in November. The full-back Clément Poitrenaud, the wing Aurélien Rougerie and the flanker Fulgence Ouedraogo are all recalled after missing the autumn Tests through injury or lack of form.
France team to play Scotland in the RBS Six Nations at Murrayfield on Sunday C Poitrenaud (Toulouse); B Fall (Bayonne), M Bastareaud (Stade), Y Jauzion (Toulouse), A Rougerie (Clermont); F Trinh-Duc (Montpellier), M Parra (Clermont); T Domingo (Clermont), W Servat (Toulouse), N Mas (Perpignan), L Nallet (Racing Metro), P Pape (Stade), T Dusautoir (Toulouse), F Ouedraogo (Montpellier), I Harinordoquy (Biarritz).
Replacements D Szarzewski (Stade), L Ducalcon (Castres), J Pierre (Clermont), J Bonnaire (Clermont), J Elissalde (Toulouse), D Marty (Perpignan), V Clerc (Toulouse), S Marconnet (Stade).Reuse content