Chabalmania hits France again

Sebastien Chabal insisted he can deal with the ‘Chabalmania’ sweeping France following his reinclusion in Les Bleus’ starting lineup.

Chabal is one of the most talked-about sportsmen in France, figuring on both the front and back pages, and has a cult following because of his rugged looks and buccaneering style of play.

His desire to keep a smidgeon of anonymity, for his own sake as much as his family’s, is the chief reason why he plays his club rugby in England and not in France.

But he maintains such hype and hysteria around his name will not affect his performance on the pitch.

“I cope fine with it,” said Chabal, who received the biggest cheers of the match during Saturday’s 42-17 win over the Pacific Islanders when he came on as a substitute and then dumped rampaging Fiji number eight Sisa Koyamaibole on his backside.

“People ask me about it all the time and my reply is always the same.

“It is part of my life now. But for me, it doesn’t mean anything when I go on the pitch.

“It isn’t me who wanted all this. I accept it and I live with it but it isn’t for that that I like to go out there.

“I am not going to change.”

The long-haired, bearded Sale Sharks enforcer is a regular in Sale’s back row but has played as a lock for France ever since the build-up to last year’s World Cup.

He played in that position in both of the summer Tests and is happy to make the switch again ahead of France’s clash with Australia this weekend.

“The positions aren’t very different so for me, it doesn’t change much,” he said.

“It is a position that I am happy with and well suited to.”

Chabal believes France will need to produce an error-free performance if they are to bring Australia back down to earth on Saturday.

While Les Bleus have hardly been firing on all cylinders in wins over Argentina and the Pacific Islanders over the past fortnight, the Wallabies’ 28-14 victory over England at the weekend proved they are in great shape.

Chabal was part of France’s under-strength touring squad that suffered heavy back-to-back defeats to the Australians at the end of June and start of July.

This weekend’s match in Paris should be a different story as France coach Marc Lievremont has almost all his big guns available but Chabal expects the Wallabies to adopt the typically no-frills percentage game that served them so well this summer.

And ‘The Caveman’ acknowledges there is no easy formula to stopping Robbie Deans’ men when they are in the mood.

“They are a major team, who do not do a great deal, whose base is a very good kicking game and who do not take risks,” said the Sale number eight, who will start at lock at the Stade de France on Saturday.

“In their own half, they don’t play, except to make the most of big defensive errors.

“They occupy territory and feed on the errors made by their opponents - that is what happened to us this summer. They are serious, disciplined and even though they don’t do a great deal, what they do they do well.

“I think we have the team to beat them but we are going to have to erase all the imprecision and the errors of our first two matches (this autumn).

“Against them, we must play like them - without risk, occupying territory and taking chances when we get them.”

Chabal started on the bench for France’s first two November Tests but was yesterday named in the starting XV for the Australia match, replacing Romain Millo-Chluski as captain Lionel Nallet’s partner in the second row.