Outsider Nallet now France’s inside man

Lionel Nallet’s rugby career has suffered numerous wrong turns and faced many a cul-de-sac.


Now, the 31-year-old lock forward, a dispirited bit-part player at last year’s World Cup, has come full circle by being named captain of France for the upcoming Six Nations by new coach Marc Lievremont.


It’s a major achievement for a man who, by his own admission, wasn’t good enough to be an international player just five years ago.


The Castres second-row made his international debut in May 2000 against Romania alongside the imposing Abdelatif Benazzi and even scored on his first appearance.


He then earned seven straight call ups but his form dipped and he was in the international wilderness for two years until former coach Bernard Laporte called him back for a Test match against the All Blacks in 2003.


However, any hopes he had of taking part in the 2003 World Cup in Australia were soon dashed.


“Purely and simply, I wasn’t good enough,” admitted Nallet who has 32 caps to his name from his stop-start career.


“I arrived from Bourgoin where I made the first team straight away.


I therefore thought that would be good enough at international level, which was not true, naturally.


“When I was dropped (for the 2003 World Cup squad), it was a turning point. I started to get serious about it. In 2004, I moved to Castres where I started to work a lot harder on my physical fitness.”

 

The dedication paid off and in 2005 Laporte called him back into the squad for a Test against Australia before going on to be a member of the squad for the 2006 and 2007 Six Nations.

But there was time for one more disappointment at the 2007 World Cup when Nallet was sidelined in favour of former skipper Fabien Pelous and Jerome Thion while Sebastien Chabal was handed the impact role in the second row when required.


Despite his bit-part role in the tournament, where he started against Namibia and Georgia, had a half against Ireland and featured in the third-place playoff defeat against Argentina, Nallet finished with three tries.


Although he wasn’t selected for the dramatic quarter-final win against New Zealand or the semi-final defeat to England, he was still voted best international player of the 2006-2007 season by his peers.


Nallet will be 35 when the next World Cup (to be held in New Zealand in 2011) comes around but Lievremont insists the Castres forward is the man for the moment as they prepare to defend their Six Nations crown in February.


“We are building for the future,” said Lievremont.


“We are not certain that Nallet will still be present in 2011, but he is the best in his position now, so he will play.” The new coach said he was hugely impressed by Nallet’s dedication to transform himself into a modern lock forward.


“He knew that he had to make great efforts. For many seasons he was considered to be an old-fashioned lock forward, too static.


“In that sense he is a great example.”


Sapa-AFP  Rugbyweek.com

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