France's Flament trod unusual path to facing the All Blacks

·3-min read

Living in Belgium, playing for an English university's fifth team and working in Argentina for a year is not the most orthodox route to facing the All Blacks.

On Saturday, lock Thibaud Flament is set to make his third international appearance as France host New Zealand in a highly-anticipated dress rehearsal for the opening game of the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Fresh-faced Flament, 24, moved to Brussels with his family as a child where he played at fly-half but his intention was always to represent the country of his birth.

So much so, he would sleep with the famous blue shirt on his ceiling so it would be the last thing he saw before falling asleep.

With his eye on becoming a professional player Flament was accepted to Loughborough University, an institution with a reputation for elite sport which has produced the likes of Scotland scrum-half Henry Pyrgos and Cardiff back-rower Ollie Robinson in recent years.

"The majority of our boys have come with some sort of reputation," Loughborough University first team's forwards coach Jim Murphy told AFP.

"Thibaud was just under the radar all together.

"We have those boys that we're proud about but Thibaud was completely unknown to us when he arrived," he added.

During his year abroad he worked at the French embassy in Buenos Aires and reached the final of the country's top-flight rugby league with Club Newman.

"He started playing in the lower teams of the squad and ended up playing because of his physical, athletic and rugby conditions in the first team," former Newman and Pumas centre Manuel Contepomi told AFP before Flament's international debut in the win over Argentina this month.

"He was a fighter, constantly wanted to improve and sought excellence. A great guy.

"He says that Newman gave him a lot and I also believe that people of that nature give a lot to the club and we are very grateful that Thibaud has come through Newman," he added.

- Facing the best -

In the last year of his studies he moved up from the fifth team to Loughborough's first team which played in England's semi-professional third tier, National One.

He scored a hat-trick at Cinderford and English Premiership clubs took note.

"When he came back from Argentina he was different physically," Murphy said.

"He'd put a bit of size on. It hadn't impacted his ability to move which it does sometimes when the boys put it on too quickly. He is a freakish athlete.

"A few people came looking, Wasps were the ones who were lucky enough to get hold of him," he added.

After a season at Wasps he was signed by French giants Toulouse where he won the Top 14 title and the European Champions Cup in his maiden campaign.

Earlier this month Flament scored against the Pumas during his Test bow and he came off the bench against Georgia last Sunday for his second cap.

"I was always pretty sure he was going to going back to France, by the sounds of what he was saying about playing back in France," Murphy said.

"I didn't think it would happen this quickly. That success first time round was always possible but everything's aligned for him which is great, because it couldn't have happened to a nicer bloke," he added.

This weekend, the lock, who honed his skills in three very different parts of the rugby world, pits his wits against the very best.

All Blacks second-rows Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock have more than 200 Test appearances between them and won the 2015 Rugby World Cup together.

"They are players who are references in the position," Flament said this week.

"As a young player at the start of my career it’s interesting to be able to face them and take lessons from them.

"I can't wait to see what happens,” he added.

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