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Rugby | Six Nations

Mathieu Bastareaud © Gallo Images

Bastareaud awaits Saint-Andre's final cull



Centre Mathieu Bastareaud has listened to the advice given to him by the France coaching set-up and earned his recall after a near three-year absence, head coach Philippe Saint-Andre told AFP.

However, Saint-Andre added it was one thing to be in the group of 33 but quite another to make the further step of being named in the 23-man squad for their Six Nations opener against Italy in Rome next Sunday.

Bastareaud is having a tremendous season with Top 14 leaders Toulon, who also topped their European Cup pool to reach the quarterfinals, and is seemingly a reformed character since his move from Stade Francais.

His fall from grace there had been remarkable after he had been considered one of the brightest prospects both at club and international level.

Humiliatingly he had to admit he lied over a late night incident on the 2009 tour of New Zealand where having claimed he sustained facial injuries after being assaulted on his way back to the team hotel, it turned out he had fallen over a table in his room having returned in a drunken state.

It resulted in the then France Prime Minister Francois Fillon having to issue a letter of apology to his New Zealand counterpart.

Bastareaud nevertheless played a full role in the 2010 Six Nations Grand Slam campaign, starting all five games, but since then he has failed to add to his nine caps as a mixture of a dispute with Stade Francais about his desire to leave and his weight ballooning saw him drop out of favour.

However, having finally gained his desired move to Toulon, that it has done nothing but good for the 24-year-old's career, Saint-Andre, formerly head of rugby there, says.

"He has listened to our advice," Saint-Andre told AFP. "He has lost weight, and become focused and serious on the priorities both on and off the pitch. He has earned his place in this squad."

Saint-Andre, though, admitted that Bastareaud may have to wait a while longer before he actually gets into the matchday squad.

"There are some positions where we are weak in terms of competition," said Saint-Andre, 45, who stepped into the vacuum left by the departure of Marc Lievremont following the 2011 World Cup final loss to the All Blacks.

"However, with regard to the centres we do not have that problem as we have a whole load of options with Wesley Fofana, Maxime Mermoz and Florian Fritz while Aurelien Rougerie is still around.

"Thus it is good that he is in the 33 but it is another thing entirely to make the 23."

Bastareaud - cousin of former France footballer William Gallas - said he was just delighted to have earned a recall to the larger squad, defying predictions.

"A new adventure begins with the Blues," he said on Saturday. "It is a little like going back to school, I am very happy, very proud.

"Three months ago nobody thought I would be in the squad.

"What happened in the past stays in the past. It is a new story, a new coaching staff and a new team. It is something compeletely different."

Bastareaud, scorer of two tries in his test career, said he would take Saint-Andre's decision when he names his 23 man squad on Monday gracefully.

"It will be fantastic to be in the 23. I am a competitor, and I an really desperate to be in the squad. But if I am not, I will not be too disappointed because I know the luck I have had to already be here."

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