French wing's 'incredible' 18-month journey
SPOTLIGHT: In the space of a year and a half, wing Gabin Villiere’s career has taken him from the third-tier French Federale 1 to potentially winning the year-end Nations Cup on just his second Test appearance.
Villiere, who turns 25 later this month, scored a superb solo effort on his France debut in last weekend’s win over Italy.
This Sunday he is expected to start again on the left flank for Les Bleus’ visit to Twickenham.
“It’s incredible, what’s happening it’s a kid’s dream,” Villiere said on Tuesday.
His coach in Normandy was former England half-back Richard Hill, as Villiere started out as second-team scrumhalf.
“When he first arrived at the club he couldn’t pass, he couldn’t kick so it wasn’t the real position for him,” Hill told AFP.
“We moved him to centre, he still didn’t have the technical skills for that so we moved him to the wing.”
Former Bath academy product Ben Mercer played with Villiere at the club and published his Fringes book about his time there.
“I genuinely wouldn’t have put him down as someone with any aptitude for rugby,” Mercer told AFP.
“Gabin had this raw athletic talent which he’s managed to polish and add the skill to,” he added.
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In 2016/2017, Villiere touched down for 26 tries in 23 league matches before being scouted by the France sevens set-up.
“It was crazy. There was one time we kicked a penalty from quite far away, it hit the bar,” Mercer said.
“It got a rebound and he scored. He would always put himself in a position to score.”
In his first campaign on the World Sevens circuit he became the first France player to be named man of the tournament at the 2019 Hong Kong leg.
“He’s a player we followed for a few years in Federale 1. We were looking for finishers,” Jerome Daret, the coach of Les Bleus in the shorter form of the game, told AFP.
“He came with us for Hong Kong where he confirmed his ability. At Rouen he played a quite a bit which put him on the path to the highest level,” he added.
Villiere joined three-time European champions Toulon last year and is set to make just his second international appearance this weekend.
He scored against the Azzurri by making the most of a rare chance in possession to finish untouched from more than 50 metres out.
“He’ll have to come and search for the ball. He hardly saw any of the ball. I’m just hoping they get a bit more ball to him,” Hill said.
“I think the French team have seen just how much of a dangerous runner he can be. I hope that’s the incentive that the fullback looks at the counter-attack because Gabin is lethal on the counter-attack.”