African rugby isn’t just the Springboks

Written by Elliot Ross

A couple of weekends ago, just before the Rugby World Cup final kick off, the French rugby team memorably faced down the New Zealand All Blacks’ haka. They joined hands and advanced towards the furious New Zealanders in an arrowhead formation. At the point of the arrowhead was an Ivorian, France’s captain Thierry Dusautoir (that’s him at 28 seconds in this video looking very angry indeed).

Dusautoir’s team narrowly lost the final, but there was no argument over who was the outstanding performer, even though one local journalist got his Thierrys all muddled up during the post-match interview. The man dubbed “The Dark Destroyer” scored his team’s try and put in a bone-crunching 22 tackles. (Four years ago he managed 38 against the same team, more than the entire All Blacks side combined)

A couple of days after the final, Dusautoir was announced as the 2011 IRB Player of the Year, rugby’s equivalent of the Ballon d’Or. It was the second time a Frenchman had won the award, but nobody seemed to notice that Dusautoir is also the third African (after South Africa’s Schalk Burger and Brian Habana) to win the game’s top individual prize. (BTW, Some of Thierry’s best performances have come against the South Africans.)

The best rugby player in the world today is a product of French settler colonialism.

He was born in Abidjan to an Ivorian mother and a French father. His grandfather Jean was an “adventurer” who crossed the Sahara before settling down on the cocoa and coffee plantation on which Thierry grew up. Aged ten, Dusautoir left Cote d’Ivoire for the rural Dordogne region of France, and a few years later, he picked up a rugby ball for the first time.

As has long been the case with the French football team (Zinedine Zidane is of Algerian descent, Patrick Vieira is Senegalese, Marcel Desailly was born in Ghana, Thierry Henry and Lilian Thuram are from Guadeloupe), France’s rugby team has become the means by which top athletes from France’s former colonies compete at an elite level.

Dusautoir inherited Les Bleus’ “Number 6” shirt from the awe-inspiring Cameroonian flanker Serge Betsen. And when Dusautoir eventually retires he will most likely hand the shirt to a Burkinabè, Fulgence Ouedraogo.

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4 thoughts on “African rugby isn’t just the Springboks

  1. While still a student (many years ago), we hosted the French team at a dinner for the Wits rugby club before they beat the Springboks at Ellis Park. The management team sent Jean Francois Tourdeau, a stone mason from Nice who was usually the captain but was injured, Abdel Benazzi, who was still establishing himself in the team, and Leon Loppy, of Senegalese heritage. This was quite obviously intended to be a pointed statement.

    As an aside, this year’s coach Marc Lievremont (who basically ceded the position to Dusatoir after a player’s revolt) was born in Senegal too.

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