Captain Bastareaud seeking respect, not recognition

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Cardiff (United Kingdom) (AFP)

Yearning respect, not recognition, barnstorming centre Mathieu Bastareaud will cap his remarkable transition from hot-headed tyro to a shining beacon of calm when he leads France out in their Six Nations finale against Wales on Saturday.

Bastareaud, who will be winning his 45th cap, steps up following an injury to Guilhem Guirado, but warned that he might not be as vocal as the hooker.

"I was never good at giving long speeches," said Bastareaud, his short, fine dreadlocks sporting dyed blond tips.

"Guilhem's the captain, I'm there to help out. I'm not thinking long term about this."

Now 29, Bastareaud made his international debut in the 2009 Six Nations when playing for Stade Francais.

That year saw the then 20-year-old, born in the southeast Paris surburbs to parents from the Caribbean island of Guadaloupe, included in the France squad to tour New Zealand, where he was the source of a diplomatic incident.

He returned to France early after sustaining facial injuries in Wellington, initially claiming he had been assaulted.

Video surveillance, however, showed Bastareaud returning uninjured to his hotel, leading the centre to later admit that he had sustained the injuries after tripping over a table in his hotel room while drunk.

He was later admitted to a psychiatric facility after attempting suicide.

A move to to Toulon in 2011 saw him quickly installed as a cult hero, and he was named club captain this season after Fabien Galthie took over coaching duties.

"There's a lot of pride, nostalgia. I remember when I first started rugby in Creteil. It's been a long road since 1995," Bastareaud said of being handed the captaincy.

"But it wasn't an objective, it was just something there and for it to happen is just crazy.

"Honestly, I've never sought recognition. What I've looked for is more respect. There's often been a lack of respect towards me. I've been seeking the respect of my teammates, my opponents, but not recognition."

Bastareaud was not picked when Guy Noves took over as coach in the wake of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, but he is a favourite of current coach Jacques Brunel despite his appearance in this Six Nations being delayed after he was banned for three weeks for using homophobic language in an European Cup match.

- No hesistation -

"I'm discovering him afresh," Brunel said of the centre.

"As captain at Toulon, he has a standing, a serenity, a quiet force that has an impact on the team and opponent which is really very interesting. I had no hesitation in naming him skipper.

"It seemed natural that Mathieu, Guirado's Toulon teammate, took over.

"He has a capacity to stay clear of pressure, to keep a distance from events. He brings a calm to the team.

"I don't think it will overwhelm him because he now has enough maturity, even at international level. I'm sure he'll know how to lead the team."

Weighing in at 126kg (19st 8lb), Bastareaud is also an incredible force of nature on the pitch, a destructive ball carrier not shy to use his physical mass.

While his offloading and passing game leave something to be desired, his ability to blast holes in the defence is something the current France team is thriving off.

"We know the weight he carries on the pitch, be it with the ball or not," said Brunel.

"Against England he didn't carry much ball up but he was a permanent danger.

"Teammates around him took advantage of that, and we must make even more use of that because we didn't do that enough."

Bastareaud insisted he would be focused on his own on-field role rather than the captaincy come the game at Cardiff's Principality Stadium.

"I'm not going to overplay my role. If I feel I have to speak, I'll speak," the softly-spoken centre said.

"I'm not there to pass on lots of information, flood the players in a sea of words because I found that overwhelming. What I'll try to do is say the right thing at the right moment and sometimes there's not even a need to speak, just give a look, make a gesture or friendly tap."