Estebanez setting his sights on World Cup glory

HAVING quit rugby union for rugby league and then come back again, France centre Fabrice Estebanez has finally made up his mind what he wants to do: shine at the World Cup.

The odds on the 29-year-old playing on the world’s biggest stage would have been long when his return to union went wrong. In 2007, his team, Gaillac, folded for financial irregularities after promotion to the top flight.

“I knew full well that setting myself a goal four years ago that I had to work hard,” Estebanez said.

After playing for US Colomiers at junior level, Estebanez quit union in 2001, then played league for Limoux and Toulouse, winning 25 caps for France’s national team.

After Brive resurrected his union career, Estebanez set himself a target: international honours in both forms of the game within three years.

“Every person who wants to succeed can get there,” said Estebanez, who will join Racing Metro 92 next season. “I gave myself the opportunity to do so.”

Estebanez made his debut last November in a 34-12 win against Fiji and will win his sixth cap on Saturday in the World Cup opener against Japan.

He had initially been selected in coach Marc Lievremont’s squad for the Six Nations championship in 2010, but did not get a game.

Considering the vagaries of his career, that was a minor setback compared to being unemployed when Gaillac folded.

“I don’t give up easily,” Estebanez said. “I wanted to prove something for myself, and I still have an objective in mind which I won’t give up on ... which is to bring that little (World) Cup back to France.”

His profile seems to match Lievremont’s needs, as he is very versatile and can also operate at fly-half and full-back, giving France valuable cover and suiting Lievremont’s penchant for tinkering with his lineups.

Estebanez will be partnered by Aurelien Rougerie — a former winger — against the Japanese.

The pair worked on their midfield partnership on Tuesday afternoon, with Lievremont barking out orders as around 80 spectators watched an open training session in chilly conditions in Takapuna, just outside Auckland.

“I hope to get on the ball more than I did against the Irish,” said Estebanez, who played alongside Rougerie at centre in the second of France’s two World Cup warm-up matches against Ireland last month, a 26-22 win.

While Japan pose less of a physical challenge than the Irish, Estebanez expects to have a lot of defending to do.

“They’re a very mobile team, very tidy. You have to be wary of them,” he said. “But at the same time our objective is to go all the way, and to do that we’ll have to beat everyone, so we shouldn’t be scared of the Japanese.”

FRANCE (Pool A v Japan Saturday 7am): C Heymans; V Clerc, A Rougerie, F Estebanez, M Medard; F Trinh-Duc, D Yachvili; F Barcella, W Servat, N Mas, J Pierre, L Nallet, T Dusautoir (capt), I Harinordoquy, R Lakafia.

Replacements: D Szarzewski, J-B Poux, P Pape, J Bonnaire, M Parra, D Skrela, D Marty.

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