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Rugby | Six Nations

Antonie Claassen © Action Images

'I'm South African but my heart is French'



South African born Antonie Claassen insisted that despite criticism of his being selected for France's squad for the Six Nations match with England his heart belonged to the French.

The 28-year-old flanker, who moved to France in 2007, first playing for Brive before moving to Castres, was a surprise pick by coach Philippe Saint-Andre on Monday.

However, Saint-Andre, desperate to get France off the mark after two defeats, against Italy and France, and stave off talk about a first wooden spoon for the French since 1957, opted for the highly-rated South African.

"I let it slide," said Claassen about the criticism that greeted his selection, the first foreign-born player to be named in a French squad since centre Brian Liebenberg in 2003.

"I tried not to read too much of the press this week. Of course it puts a bit more pressure on me, that is normal.

"But I received plenty of messages, on Facebook, Twitter or my mobile phone from France and South Africa. I understand that it gets people talking. Yes, I am South African but my heart is here and I am going to give everything for the country, I am going to play to my limits."

Claassen said that he had received a gentle ribbing over how he was going to address the French national anthem.

"The Marseillaise? I know it by heart, don't worry. I was the subject of teasing in the Castres changing room because of that. I don't know who, but someone stuck the words onto my locker. It made me laugh."

Claassen said that his call-up was still sinking in.

"I am very proud. It is an honour. It is extraordinary to be here. It was a pretty crazy week. When I arrived in France, it wasn't for the money or the contract.

"It was just to discover the country, to play here. It is a huge day, five-and-a-half years after my arrival in France, I find myself in the French squad.

"When he (Philippe Saint-Andre) told me that I was in the 23 I said that I was ready.

"I still do not believe it, it is magnificent. You always dreams of this day but I never thought it would arrive so quickly. Now it is for me to do the job."

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