French prop Bale primed for 'big moment’ against South Africa

PARIS (AFP) – Over the years France have developed battle-hardened props that have been able to hold their own as the best in world rugby.

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Cyril Bailly, the current loose leader, is joined by the likes of Christian Califano, Nicolas Maass or Pascal Ondarts, and on Sunday the 30-year-old will face one of the biggest challenges of his career.

At Stade de France, the front-rower is set to play a big role for the hosts in their Rugby World Cup quarter-final against South Africa, but two months ago it looked highly unlikely.

Bailey suffered a calf injury against Scotland in the August warm-up match that put his match in doubt.

Despite fitness issues, he returned for France’s two final group games, winning against Namibia and Italy.

„He had a personal injury and he was able to return,” France scrum coach William Servet told reporters on Thursday.

„He’s had a few injuries in his career and each time he’s managed to come back stronger,” the former hooker added.

Bale, who weighs 118kg, made his Test debut in 2016 through the Toulouse academy.

However, he had to wait until Fabian Caldi took over as head coach four years ago to make the No.1 shirt his own.

’one thousand percent’

He grew up in the foothills of the Pyrenees, like his teammates, including captain Antoine Dupont and full-back Anthony Gelonch.

Cyril Bale (L) hugs Greg Aldrich in a training session before Italy’s win © Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP/File

Despite Bale’s abrasive demeanor on the field and his ability to win penalties against the world’s leading stoppers at scrum-time, his character off the field is very different.

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„Sometimes, I’ve experienced it as a player, people can confuse grace with weakness,” Servet said.

„Cyril was a very kind and generous person, but behind his warm side, he was someone filled with hope,” he added.

The soft-spoken Bailey has been one of the cornerstones of the former scrum-half’s tenure.

The father-of-one has been a key part of the squad that will reach the 2022 Six Nations Grand Slam and started the report-making wins over New Zealand and the Springboks in the last two years.

„I love playing with Cyril,” Gelonch said Thursday.

„He gave it his all until the very end on the field.

“He knows how to go above and beyond in big games and I trust him a thousand percent.

„I’m sure he’ll come through for us,” he added.

Having claimed the Six Nations, won key Tests for his country and lifted the Top 14 and Champions Cup titles with his club, Sunday’s game will be a milestone in Bale’s career.

He will need to play well against the Boks’ heavy pack in open play, scrum consistently against the front-five and be key in defence, to win the 2019 World Cup.

„The last games allowed him to come back in a good way, ready for this kind of event,” Servet said.

„Big players come in big moments.

„Sunday will be a big moment,” he added.

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