South African lock's French dream realised
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: The South African contingent in the French team increased with the announcement of their Six Nations squad.
SA-born lock Paul Willemse was one of five uncapped players named by Jacques Brunel for the two opening matches of the Championship.
The former Bulls second row forward, Willemse (26) qualifies for his adoptive country on residency grounds – having spent more than three years with Top 14 clubs Montpellier and Grenoble.
The Pretoria native received his citizenship in November after French Rugby Federation president Bernard Laporte said in December 2016 that possession of a French passport was a requirement for inclusion in the national team.
Brunel pointed out the 2.01m tall Willemse’s physical attributes as a reason for his inclusion.
“Looking at his height and weight is enough, he has the ability to provide continuity in our play,” he said.
Willemse could line up alongside another South African-born player in the second-row as 33-time France international Bernard Le Roux is also in the 31-man squad.
Fijian-born wing Alivereti Raka, who also received his French nationality in November, has impressed for more than four years at Clermont but is not included due to a hand injury.
The other new faces are Toulouse’s Romain Ntamack, utility back Thomas Ramos and prop Dorian Aldegheri as well as La Rochelle second-row Gregory Alldritt.
Ntamack, a world under-20s champion last year, is the son of former international Emile who won 46 caps between 1994-2000 for Les Bleus.
Brunel justified the selection of youngsters Ntamack and Ramos after leading Toulouse to a run of 12 games without defeat.
“It’s a surprise to no-one to see these players included. They are at a club which is performing well and efficiently and they’re playing well which is to their advantage.”
Clermont’s experienced pair of Morgan Parra and Wesley Fofana return to the squad after missing the November Tests through injuries.
Wing Teddy Thomas, second-row Yoann Maestri and back row forward Mathieu Babillot are also not included due to injuries.
Brunel’s side, which suffered defeat by the Springboks and for the first time by Fiji but beat Argentina in November, kick off their 2019 Six Nations campaign at home against Wales on February 1. Les Bleus then take on England at Twickenham on February 10.
Forwards: Dorian Aldegheri, Gregory Alldritt, Uini Atonio, Demba Bamba, Pierre Bourgarit, Yacouba Camara, Guilhem Guirado (capt), Arthur Iturria, Felix Lambey, Wenceslas Lauret, Bernard Le Roux, Julien Marchand, Louis Picamoles, Jefferson Poirot, Dany Priso, Sebastien Vahaamahina, Paul Willemse.
Backs: Mathieu Bastareaud, Anthony Belleau, Geoffrey Doumayrou, Antoine Dupont, Gael Fickou, Wesley Fofana, Yoann Huget, Camille Lopez, Maxime Medard, Romain Ntamack, Morgan Parra, Damian Penaud, Thomas Ramos, Baptiste Serin.