Rugby: French Ful of running

By Dylan Cleaver

There are so many interesting facts we'd love to tell you about Burkina Faso but if we were to do that, what would be the point of Wikipedia? So instead let's just say that the country that translates to "Land of the upright people" has developed a very good nose-to-the-ground player.

The wonderfully named Fulgence Ouedraogo, created in Ouagadougou, raised in Montpellier, is further evidence of how the face of French sport has changed over the past 20 years, and is further evidence that they can produce some fairly freakishly athletic loose forwards.

Ouedraogo was one of the stars of last night's win, being France's most reliable lineout option and also part of a loose forward trio that dominated their opponents.

It was a happy return to New Zealand for the 22-year-old who made his debut in their disastrous 61-10 loss in Wellington two years ago.

"It's crazy," an elated Ouedraogo said in halting English. The last time I was here I was part of France's biggest loss to New Zealand and now we win. Amazing."

Ouedraogo said it was gratifying to know that the breakdown was an area the French gained a decisive victory in but he said there was a more obvious factor in the win.

Clutching his chest he said, simply: "Spirit. The heart."

He and his best mate, Francois Trinh-Duc, who scored France's first try, represent more than just Les Bleus. they are prime examples of how far French sport has crossed any colour barrier.

In the side that won the 1998 Fifa World Cup, four players were born in former French colonies - Lilian Thuram

(Guadeloupe), Marcel Desailly (Ghana), Christian Karembeu (New Caledonia) and Patrick Vieira (Senegal) - while the team also contained Zinedine Zidane, a son of Algerian immigrants, French-Iranian Alain Boghossian, Kalmyk-Armenian Youri Djorkaeff and Basque Bixente Lizarazu.

French tennis fans were enthralled by the skills of French-Cameroonian Yannick Noah, and his torch has been passed to the likes of Gael Monfils whose father hails from Guadeloupe and his mother Martinique, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, whose father is Congolese.

Triple Olympic champion Marie-José Pérec was born in Guadeloupe and France's best basketballer, Tony Parker, was born in Belgium and has an African-American father.

Rugby, predominantly played in the south and not massively popular in the two biggest cities, Paris and Marseille, has been a little whiter. The first French team to play the All Blacks, in 1906, included black players Georges Jérome and André Verges but this was not the beginning of any trend. There was Serge Blanco, the part Venezuelan, part-Basque fullback from Biarritz, Emile N'Tamack, who was of Cameroonian descent, and Moroccan Abdelatif Bennazzi, but they were exceptions.

Then Serge Betsen burst on to the scene and players of colour have been a regular feature since.

Mathieu Bastareaud, Thierry Dusautoir and Ouedraogo all have exotic heritage, as does Ouedraogo's childhood friend, Trinh-Duc. His paternal grandfather hails from Vietnam.

Ouedraogo and Trinh-Duc have been described as inseparable friends.

They have been playing club rugby together since the age of six. They first met playing mini rugby for Pic Saint-Loup before moving together to the Montpellier club.

- Herald on Sunday

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