A fixture of the France team since making her debut in 2012, Safi N’Diaye is without doubt one of the best players to have ever graced the Women’s Six Nations.
The fearsome 32-year-old forward has been part of three Championship title wins for Les Bleues during her illustrious career, with two of those triumphs ending in Grand Slams.
Her impact in the domestic game has also been significant, winning six trophies in the French top flight with Montpellier since making the switch from Castres in 2011.
N’Diaye has been included in the 35-player squad for the 2021 Women’s Six Nations and her experience could be vital if Annick Hayraud’s side are to regan the title.
INTRODUCTION TO RUGBY
Sport was almost inescapable for N’Diaye when she was growing up.
Her father was a footballer, her mother a volleyball player and her sister practiced rhythmic gymnastics while N’Diaye spent her early years gravitating towards basketball.
Already 1.80m tall when she was just 12, it seemed the logical option for N’Diaye until her potential was spotted by a female rugby coach who invited her to training.
“I discovered a bunch of completely crazy girls, with a warm spirit,” she said.
“They said to me, ‘Tuesday, we play against the boys, you come. Don’t worry, we’ll bring you some stuff. You grab the ball and run as fast as possible’.”
N’Diaye was hooked straight away and never looked back, beginning her training at Women’s Rugby Castres before going on to become French Federal 3 champion in 2005.
N’Diaye’s rise through the ranks continued as she honed the position of flanker, helping Castres to the French Federal 2 title in 2011 before joining Montpellier the following season.
CLUB AND COUNTRY SUCCESS
Her move to Montpellier came in the same year as her Women’s Six Nations debut, with N’Diaye playing in the second row for her first cap against Scotland in Stirling.
A year later, N’Diaye achieved her first French Top 10 title with Montpellier before more silverware followed during an incredible 2014 season for club and country.
N’Diaye began the year by winning the Grand Slam with France, starting every game for Les Bleues at No.8 and scoring a try in the dominant 27-0 win over Wales.
She also scored twice in the 69-0 victory over Scotland in Round 4 as France clinched their fourth Women’s Six Nations title with an impressive clean sweep.
Her superb year continued with another top flight title with Montpellier before N’Diaye was selected for the 2014 Women’s Rugby World Cup, which saw France finish in third place.
And having received the inaugural Midi Olimpique Oscar for best French female player in 2014, N’Diaye continued to go from strength to strength on the rugby field.
She helped Montpellier secure a third consecutive French title in 2015 and was voted the best player in the final before more Women’s Six Nations success followed.
RECOGNITION ON WORLD STAGE
N’Diaye started every game for France in 2016 and scored a try in her country’s only defeat of the Championship to Wales as they won the title on points difference from England.
While France were unable to retain the title in 2017, N’Diaye won yet more silverware at club level as Montpellier claimed the French first division title for the fourth time.
The year ended with Les Bleues matching their third-place World Cup finish from 2014 after losing their semi-final showdown with England as N’Diaye added another bronze to her collection.
Her role for France was recognised with a nomination for World Rugby’s Women’s Player of the Year while N’Diaye and Les Bleues exacted revenge over England in 2018.
France won all five of their games in that year’s Women’s Six Nations, with N’Diaye starting every game after switching from No.8 to second row, as they secured another Grand Slam triumph.
She was nominated for Women’s Player of the Year again in 2018 for her role in that Women’s Six Nations success, missing out on the crown to teammate Jessy Trémoulière.
But N’Diaye satisfied her craving for more accolades with further French top flight titles with Montpellier in 2018 and 2019 – and she will be eyeing more Championship glory in 2021.