France have turned the corner under Jacques Brunel – and no-one has epitomised that transformation more than Mathieu Bastareaud.
The Toulon centre missed the first two games of this year’s Championship as Les Bleus slipped to defeats to Ireland and Scotland.
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That meant that France were on an eight-match winless run and staring down the barrel of another disappointing 2018 NatWest 6 Nations campaign.
But in came Bastareaud for the clash with Italy in Marseille and one titanic try-scoring performance later, both his and the team’s role had reversed.
A week later they beat defending champions England in Paris, and then when Guilhem Guirado went down injured – the talismanic Bastareaud was handed the captaincy as well.
“What’s true is that over the last three matches that was a real change in the team and the way we carried ourselves,” he told Stade 2.
“Before that we looked like losers, every defeat was just another defeat and we would come back to Marcoussis and work hard.
“But we knew we needed to turn that around which we managed to do against Italy and that match against England was even more important.”
For a man who made his debut for France back in 2009, 45 caps seems like a low number.
But the move to Toulon from Stade Francais back in 2011 has brought the best out of the wrecking ball who now captains his Top 14 side.
But modesty prevents Bastareaud from blowing his own trumpet on his own impact on this France side.
“To help my teammates, I worked out what I needed to do,” he added.
“I am a leader in my own way.
“There is Gulhem (Guirado) who does fantastic work and Maxime (Machenaud) as well. Me, I just try to show what I can do in the combat on the pitch.
“Guilhem was a bit isolated in the team when it came to leadership in recent years.
“We now have players with responsibilities at their clubs, look at Maxime at Racing, that lets some of the pressure off.”
What is beyond doubt and cannot be denied by modesty is Bastareaud’s brilliance over the ball at the breakdown.
The French centre won five turnovers in his three Championship appearances and takes great pride in that facet of his game.
“That is one of my qualities, of course it is normally the back row who are strong at that part of the game,” he added.
“But I like to put my head in there as well, it is not something I have really worked on, it has just come naturally.
“It’s a great way to stop an attack in its tracks.”
But the hard work does not end here, France now head to New Zealand this summer and Bastareaud is desperate for more.
“We have a good group, the talent was always there but we have added a new dynamic with Jacques and some new players. Plus some players that have returned,” he added.
“We have a large group which is good for French rugby, there is a lot of competition, we have a nice mix now.
“There is a lot of quality, but there is a lot more work to do. We need to be much more precise on our ball – particularly in the red zone in their 22.
“We have had a few problems there, we let four or five tries go in the last three games so that will need to improve.”