Moody Blue Bastareaud the centre of attention

Mathieu Bastareaud goes around Wales's Richard Hibbard. Picture: INPHO

It is a common reaction.

The name Brian O’Driscoll has just been mentioned, and Mathieu Bastareaud, who looks set to be called from the bench to stop the centre in Dublin tomorrow, puffs out his cheeks and rolls his eyes.

It is a gesture that implies, quite succinctly, ‘what can I say?’

Yet that wouldn’t make for a great interview, so it is a relief when the imposing Frenchman decides to elaborate on a player he believes has been the best in his position for a decade.

And while Bastareaud, all 18st 2lbs of him, knows that his body shape means he is incapable of some of O’Driscoll’s subtleties, he still feels there is much to learn from the master.

Preparation started some years ago, with Bastareaud admitting with a grin that he has spent countless hours watching O’Driscoll’s best moments on YouTube.

Now, though, what he learnt will be tested in the heat of battle as two out-of-form sides — five losses out of six between them so far — attempt to rebuild crumbling reputations.

Ultimately, the battle in the centre will be key, and if this is O’Driscoll’s last home game in the Six Nations, then Bastareaud is desperate to ensure it won’t be one to remember.

“It will be an honour to play against Brian,” says Bastareaud with a grin. “For over 10 years, he has been the best centre in the world.

“I am always happy to watch his games, and I have watched all his compilations on YouTube.

“He is very clever, very fast, very quick — and he is a very good defender as well.

“He is just amazing. What makes him so good is that he always makes the good decision. What he does is always right. He knows when to pass, he knows when to keep the ball.

“Myself, I need to be more precise — to be more like him. Maybe we don’t have the same body, but maybe we have the same quality.

“Today I can’t play like O’Driscoll — even if I’d like to. Brian is so clever, he can play all those positions — he could even be a flanker.”

Discussions of O’Driscoll provide only light relief for Bastareaud, however. The 24-year-old is already in his third separate spell with the French side after a tumultuous career.

In 2009, the centre was suspended for three months after his claims he fractured an eye socket after being attacked by ‘four or five men’ while on tour in New Zealand turned out to be a fabrication.

Instead, Bastareaud had fallen over in his hotel room while drunk. New Zealand Prime Minister John Key apologised after the initial claims of assault; his French counterpart, Francois Fillon, was forced to do so when they were proven to be baseless.

He returned, but was left out of the 2011 World Cup squad by Marc Lievremont. Another spell in the wilderness followed, but Philippe Saint-Andre has been impressed by his dedication since a move to Toulon and rewarded him with a call-up for the Six Nations.

The problem is that in November, when Bastareaud was out of the picture, France swept all before them. Now that he has returned, they can’t buy a win.

He adds: “You think ‘I’m here and we have lost again — maybe it’s because of me.’ That’s very hard to take.

“I wasn’t there in November and it’s been tough to come in and we lose. Now we need to win in Ireland, mainly for our confidence.

“We have lost all three of our games and that is a lot for the French team. All we can do is go to Ireland with humility and try to win.

“Do we need to learn to lose for the team to develop before the 2015 World Cup? Maybe. England lost a lot of games, and now they play very well as they have the whole team together. We need to do this, and I hope that in Ireland, it will come together.”


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