The hysteria of hosting a Rugby World Cup hit home for France as Les Blues had to deflect a politically motivated rebuke just days before opening the tournament.
Left-wing party La France Insoumise’s deputy leader Thomas Portes threw himself into the World Cup picture in calling for lock Bastien Chalureau’s removal from France’s squad.
Lock Chalureau has replaced the injured Paul Willemse for France’s campaign, but the 31-year-old has come under immediate scrutiny for his six-month suspended prison sentence dating back to November 2020.
Chalureau lost his job with Toulouse after a guilty verdict for assaulting two people, with the courts determining the attack to be racially motivated.
Now at Montpellier, Chalureau has always disputed the racial element, and France not only consider the matter long since over and the player rehabilitated into the fold – but also rejected any calls for his removal now.
France will take on New Zealand at the Stade de France on Friday night to launch their home World Cup.
Les Blues could do without such political intervention, but coach Fabien Galthie and captain Antoine Dupont dispatched that verbal volley with poise and timing to befit France’s media centre surroundings in tennis complex Roland Garros.
“We’re saying what we’ve been saying for four years; he plays in that position with heart and commitment,” said head coach Galthie, of Chalureau. “And we want to share this with all the French rugby of the last four years.
“To those people saying he hasn’t got a place in rugby: Bastien told us about this affair, and he firmly denies what he’s accused of. And we need to let due process take its course.”
When asked if France’s coaches had paid enough attention to the impact of that court case, Galthie continued: “Before we select a player, we try to get to know them, to share with them our way of living and our way of playing rugby. And I will repeat the same things that I’ve just said.”
Balureau has never shirked his guilt in the assault, but has always protested the racial element.
Scrum-half, captain and petit general Dupont is far too cool to be rattled by such political posturing when a years-old issue has been rehashed on the eve of the World Cup.
As far as the France players are concerned, Balureau is no racist. For the context of the World Cup at least, that is all that appears to count.
“Amongst players in the group we’ve not been affected by it. We were aware of this affair that is still a live court case I believe, and with us he has been absolutely exemplary whether on or off the field.
“Our main concern is performance on the field and Bastien plays his role perfectly. Rugby is not for the faint-hearted, you need to be tough.”
Amid more regular rugby matters, France are refusing to rule powerhouse centre Jonathan Danty out of Friday night’s World Cup opener against the All Blacks.
La Rochelle bruiser Danty suffered a hamstring issue in France’s final warm-up match, the 41-17 win over Australia.
The 31-year-old has been a clear doubt for the New Zealand clash, but Galthie revealed Danty is refusing to give up the chance of playing in that opener.
“Today he took part in all the training sessions; they were moderate intensity training sessions that have been tailored to his injury during the week,” said Galthie.
“Depending on how he progresses we will then take a decision on the team for the opening match.”
Asked if he is out of the All Blacks match yet, Galthie added: “No, he has a muscular problem and he’s being closely monitored by our staff. I don’t think he’s thrown in the towel.”