As the hosts France begin their quest to win the Rugby World Cup for the first time, Les Blues have found their build-up shrouded in controversy after the call-up of replacement lock Bastien Chalureau.
The 31-year-old Montpellier forward was handed a six-month suspended prison sentence in 2020 after a racially-motivated assault against two other Rugby players. Chalureau is appealing the sentence, admitting to the attack but denying there was a racially motivated element to the attack.
In a press conference on the eve of the tournament, the player again reaffirmed those beliefs. “I am not a racist, I do not have those values,” he said. “What I want to say to you is that I confessed to my mistakes, that I paid my debts and I deny all claims about racist remarks.
“I wanted to come out in public and address all my team-mates, my family as it does not just affect me. I am not a racist, I bring people together. The beauty of rugby is it brings together people from all communities.”
Born in Mondavezan in southwestern France, Chalureau began his rugby journey at age five, playing for his local club Cazeres. He would remain there for his formative developmental years before he began to attract the attention of some of France’s biggest rugby academies.
At 17, the move would finally come his way as he departed his home club to join Toulouse’s academy. He was already a prominent member of the France under-18 team prior to this move, but the young lock would struggle to make an impact during his five-year spell with the club as he struggled with form and a long-term injury to his knee.
In 2014, Chalureau made the move to second-division side Perpignan with the hopes of reigniting his career. Two solid years followed in Catalonia before a move to Nevers, a fellow second-tier outfit.
After impressing there for another couple of seasons, Chalureau would earn a move back up to the first division as he rejoined Toulouse having spent four seasons away from the club. However, he would make only one appearance before being sacked by the club in the aftermath of the aforementioned attack.
He later joined fellow Top 14 side Montpellier where he has played for the last four seasons. In 2021, his side would win the European Rugby Challenge Cup before adding the Top 14 title the following season in 2022.
Chalureau made his international debut in December of that year as a late replacement in a 30-26 win over reigning world champions South Africa rugby in Marseille. He has since gone on to make six appearances for his country prior to the start of this World Cup.
The second row initially found himself outside of Fabien Galthie’s 33-man squad for the tournament but has since been added to the squad after an injury withdrawal from Paul Wilemse in a move that would spark debate and controversy.
Members of the French Parliament have called for Chalureau to be pulled from the squad while President Emmanuel Macron was recorded telling head coach Galthie: “We don’t want the controversy getting out of hand,” when visiting the squad.
Former national team captain Thierry Dusautoir, a friend of one of the victims of the attack, said he has never supported the second-row forward playing for France.
“I’ve always had a problem with him being in the French national team,” Dusautoir told Canal Plus. “I’m aware that I’m not objective in this.”
Despite the controversy, the lock looks set to remain in the squad ahead of France’s opening fixture against New Zealand in Paris.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies