Marseille - Mathieu Bastareaud knows he's been given a few
chances in his life and at the age of 29 the burly centre has no intention of
letting this one go.
It's been a bumpy road for Bastareaud in a France shirt at
times, going right back to his breakthrough year in 2009.
But having seemingly been banished and forgotten following
France's humiliating 2015 World Cup quarter-final thrashing by New Zealand, the
hard-running midfielder is back and has Italy in his sights ahead of Friday
night's Six Nations clash in Marseille.
And even the uncouth indiscretion of aiming a homophobic
slur at Treviso's Sebastian Negri - who he will face again on Friday - last
month in a European Champions Cup match, earning a three-week ban, has not
stopped Bastareaud continuing his international career.
"Nothing's changed. Under Guy (Noves) I came from a
long, long way back to in the end play in his last matches," said
"Now, who knows if that situation won't be reversed
with Jacques (Brunel)."
Following the World Cup, Bastareaud spent two years in the
international wilderness as Noves looked elsewhere, eventually settling on a
centre pairing of Gael Fickou and Remi Lamerat.
But he was recalled in November and then again in January
once Brunel had replaced Noves.
He perhaps wouldn't be lining up for France against Italy
were it not for Lamerat being one of eight France players suspended by their
own federation over a controversial late-night drinking session following their
defeat to Scotland two weeks ago.
But Bastareaud is back, nonetheless.
"The French team belongs to no-one," said
Bastareaud. "I've lived it: I've come back after a two-year absence.
"There's a lot of movement... Beyond that, there's a
huge mark of faith that I need to repay."
He's had to do that before, too, notably after being sent
home from France's 2009 tour to New Zealand for lying about being mugged when
in fact he'd suffered a facial injury falling over drunk in his hotel room.
He's also had to force his way back in following a long
absence previously, having had to wait three years between his ninth and 10th
With 42 caps to his name now, Bastareaud will be the most
experienced player in the France backline.
And he is one of the few survivors from the France team that
claimed the Six Nations Grand Slam in 2010.
But Bastareaud's return can very much be looked at through
the prism of France's current malaise - their best tournament finish since
2010 was third last year.
In his younger days he was a potent weapon as a crash-ball
Built like a brick outhouse but with a turn of pace, he
would launch himself at much lighter centres, sucking in extra cover and
creating space for others in the next phase.
But now, his waistline has grown and his pace disappeared.
On France's official federation website, he's listed as
126kg - the heaviest player in France's starting line-up on
Friday night - he wouldn't look out of place in the frontrow.
France have won just three of their last 15 matches while
Italy have tasted success only once in 14 encounters.
In fact, Italy will set a new record for themselves of 15
consecutive Six Nations defeats if they lose.
Both sides have lost their opening two games of this year's
Six Nations but while France's were close, Italy have already leaked more than
Their Irish coach Conor O'Shea has come to France with
"I hope we'll offer ourselves and our fans a
performance we can all be proud of," he said.
15 Hugo Bonneval, 14 Benjamin Fall, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 11 Remy Grosso, 10 Lionel Beauxis, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Marco Tauleigne, 7 Yacouba Camara, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 4 Paul Gabrillagues, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhelm Guirado (captain), 1 Jefferson Poirot
Substitutes: 16 Adrien Pelisse, 17 Dany Priso, 18 Cedate Gomes Sa, 19 Romain Taofifenua, 20 Kelian Galletier, 21 Baptiste Couilloud, 22 Francois Trinh-Duc, 23 Gael Fickou
15 Matteo Minozzi, 14 Tommaso Benvenuti, 13 Tommaso Boni, 12 Tommaso Castello, 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 Sergio Parisse (captain), 7 Maxime Mbanda, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Dean Budd, 4 Alessandro Zanni, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Andrea Lovotti
Substitutes: 16 Luca Bigi, 17 Nicola Quaglio, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 George Biagi, 20 Federico Ruzza, 21 Edoardo Gori, 22 Carlo Canna, 23 Jayden Hayward