Mathieu Bastareaud (Gallo)
London - If Mathieu Bastareaud lifts the
Rugby World Cup trophy on October 31 it will complete one of the most
extraordinary tales of redemption and courage in sport.
The barrel-chested French centre is the man
Sunday's opponents Ireland fear most. But six years ago Bastareaud feared
himself when a terrible sequence of events led him to try to take his own life.
Bastareaud was 20 and France's future great
star. But he ended a night out on the town in Wellington, New Zealand, looking
like he had gone 12 rounds with Mike Tyson.
He claimed he had been set upon by four or
five men while returning to the team hotel. But the story quickly unravelled
and he admitted he had been drunk and fallen over a table in his room.
France's Prime Minister Francois Fillon had
to apologise to his New Zealand counterpart over the made-up story, citing the
"unacceptable behaviour" of a French player.
Bastareaud - whose father left when he was
three and who suffered from bulimia throughout his adolescence - laid bare in
his recent autobiography, "Haute Tete" (Head High), the dilemma he
faced on his first foreign tour.
"What was I to do? I should have owned
up: 'I was drunk.'
"But I was not proud of my conduct and
I was afraid I would be punished.
"I am cowardly. So instead of telling
the truth and placing my confidence in the coaching staff (Marc Lievremont was
the coach at the time), I invented an elaborate lie which had serious
Bastareaud was sent back to France and the
media would not let the story drop. His story had added spice as he is a cousin
of France international footballer William Gallas.
His devoted mother Dania bore the brunt of
one intrusion that had echoes of journalists shadowing Princess Diana before
her death in 1997.
"It was 10 in the evening
exactly," she told Le Monde in September.
"I remember well, I was with Lenny
(Bastareaud's half-brother), and I told him to go to bed, then someone rings
the doorbell. I jumped out of my skin: who could ring at this hour?
"Who? A journalist prepared to do
anything to obtain a reaction.
"On the radio this journalist
subsequently gave my name, my address, he even said I lived in the
basement," added Dania, who works in a post office.
Shortly after, Bastareaud went to dramatic
lengths, having read a host of damning comments about himself on Facebook, just
days before he was due to leave on holiday.- Person at risk -
"I made my way to the kitchen. I
pulled out a large knife and I slit my wrists," he related in his book.
"I fell to the floor and passed out.
"My mates who were in the living room
understood immediately what had happened. "They saw the knife, the blood,
and me stretched out on the floor.
"They immediately called the emergency
One friend Soule Diarra, a bank worker,
told Le Monde he felt guilty for not noticing how far into hell his friend had
"In our group, we didn't tend to show
our emotions. We were not vigilant enough, I think we too share a sense of
Bastareaud - who was treated in a
psychiatric ward but subsequently took to drinking heavily - said he was not
certain whether it was a cry for help.
"I don't know if I really wanted to
"At the very least I wanted to make
myself suffer. Suffer so I could punish myself.
"When you hear throughout the day that
you are worthless, that you do not deserve to be there.
"I smiled outwardly but when I went
home I was all alone."
Bastareaud briefly regained his place in
the French team under coach Marc Lievremont, but failed to make the 2011 World
Cup squad. He only returned to the Test arena in 2013, but has as a player
found unparalleled success at Toulon - three European Cups and a French title
- since he joined in 2011.
However, his fragility remains as he showed
in December last year when he broke down in tears following a 30-6 thrashing by
Stade Francais. He has since been taking advice from boxer and sports
psychologist Faisal Arrami.
"It is not his emotions he has to
control, it is the reverse," Arrami told Le Monde.