France's Mohamed Haouas, from petty criminal to prop idol
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Mohamed Haouas will complete an unlikely circle when he takes to the pitch of the Stade de France on Sunday to play for Les Bleus against England in the Six Nations.
The 25-year-old tighthead prop, known as 'Momo', had an eventful time of it as a teenager.
Arrested for a series of break-ins and robberies of corner shops, Haouas spent five years under judicial supervision. His passport was confiscated and his comings and going closely monitored.
Taking up rugby only at the age of 15, Haouas was encouraged to join the youth set-up at Top 14 club Montpellier.
Standing 1.85m (6ft 1in), and weighing in at a hefty 127kg (20st), Haouas cuts an imposing figure and even won international military honours in 2017 after joining the French Navy.
The prop made his Top 14 breakthrough in the following season, starting no less than 13 games in the first six months, rubbing shoulders with a wealth of international players, including several from South Africa.
"I don't care about the past," said France forwards coach William Servat.
"What's important for me is the player I've met.
"He's a very respectful bloke, always on time for every meeting."
- Quick integration -
Servat added: "He integrated very quickly into the squad: he's funny and the guys like being with him and know he's a courageous bloke.
"He's an incredible listener and takes part in everything. As for his performance, we'll see afterwards. That'll be another thing. We'll wait until we get to the match, but it's a pleasure to have this player around."
Servat said visiting his club had led him to getting to know Haouas better.
"I went four times to Montpellier, I met him, we exchanged numbers, but I didn't discover him or re-discover him.
"He's the forward at Montpellier who has the best stats for movement and activity during a match. He has a profile of a tight-head prop capable of catching a back who has broken the line."
Haouas, while mobile, can also be impetuous.
Television footage of him punching teammate Bismarck du Plessis - the Springbok hardman far from a shrinking violet himself - minutes before the kick-off of a league game went viral.
It means little to France head coach Fabien Galthie, who says he welcomes "players who emerge from a different, more complicated development scheme".
"We picked players because they are performing well, at their clubs and at training."
With Toulouse's Dorian Aldegheri injured, Haouas is preferred to Lyon's Demba Bamba, named on the bench.
"At the position of tight-head prop we lacked certainty. We had to make a choice between two players (Haouas and Bamba) who have very little experience," Galthie said.
"We asked ourselves questions. We'll have the answer on Sunday."
One thing is clear: with Mohamed Haouas, it will be direct.
© 2020 AFP