French rugby chief dubs foreigners debate deeply troubling

Hostility in France towards the number of foreign-born rugby players lining up to play for Les Bleus is “deeply troubling”, French federation president Pierre Camou said Tuesday.

Bayonne’s 28-year-old South African-born full-back Scott Spedding became the latest foreigner to join up with the France squad ahead of their November international Tests, replacing the injured Brice Dulin.

Also in the 30-strong squad are already-capped flanker Bernard Le Roux and scrum-half Rory Kockott, both also born in South Africa, as well as New Zealand-born prop Uini Atonio.

Kockott’s inclusion in particular comes at the expense of veteran Morgan Parra and the promising Maxime Machenaud.

“I find it deeply troubling,” Camou said, with France due to play Fiji in Marseille on Saturday before going on to play Australia and Argentina.

“Scott Spedding is French. Does he have the right to play or not?

“Are there some origins that count or not? Does he have the right to have a choice of nationality or not?” Camou said, citing the Nobel Prize given to Polish-born, French-naturalised scientist Marie Curie.

“We have to stop the dispute.”

Camou continued: “We didn’t ask these questions before. In 1995 (at the World Cup in South Africa) the France captain was Moroccan (Abdelatif Benazzi). That didn’t trouble anyone.”

Last week, however, one of Benazzi’s former teammates, Emile Ntamack, declared himself “completely against” the presence of foreigners in the France team.

“I am completely against it!” Ntamack told Midi Olympique rugby newspaper.

“Not against the players, far from it, as long as they deserve their place.

“However, I think the France team should remain the preserve of French players, even if I played with some super guys like (South African) Pieter De Villier and (New Zealander) Tony Marsh.”

The former France full-back and winger, capped 46 times and also an ex-backs coach of the national team, said calling up foreigners clouded the future of French rugby players.

That argument was put to bed by Camou Tuesday, the federation president pulling no punches by questioning the “sporting ambition” of young French players who spend more time on the bench than the pitch for their clubs.

“If they prefer to be fourth choice in a big club rather than go and try their chance elsewhere, it’s their choice,” Camou said.

“Is it the sport or the cheque they want? They’re also to blame. It’s up to them to know what is their own sporting ambition.”

According to International Rugby Board regulations, a player is eligible for a national team if he has not played for another international team, if he is born in that country, or one of his parents or grandparents were born in that country, or if he has been resident for 36 consecutive months in that country.

The four foreigners named in the France squad all qualify through residency.

And full-back Spedding, who joined Brive in 2008 as a 22-year-old but moved to his present club Bayonne in 2012 and only received his French passport two weeks ago, said his progression to the France team was “nothing to do with rugby”.

“It was a personal move,” he said. “I feel at home here. After my career as a rugby player, I will stay here in France, so the next stage was to become French.”

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