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Eighteen months after his last cap, France turn to Fijian Virimi Vakatawa

By Liam Heagney
Virimi Vakatawa in action during his last France appearance in February 2018 (Photo by Lynne Cameron/Getty Images)

Virimi Vakatawa has been called into the France World Cup squad to replace the injured Geoffrey Doumayrou, the midfielder who was ruled out last Thursday after picking up an Achilles tendon injury in training. 

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The 27-year-old Fijian-born winger has been out of favour with Jacques Brunel for a considerable length of time, earning the last of his 17 Test caps in the February 2018 Six Nations win over Scotland in Edinburgh. 

However, that considerable gap without an appearance is now set to be bridged following his call-up to the RWC squad replace Doumayrou, who had started at centre on eight occasions and come off the bench twice more in France’s last 14 matches prior to last weekend’s 32-3 warm-up rout of Scotland.

Vakatawa, who had been busy preparing for the new Top 14 season with Racing 92, came through a series of medical checks with the French backroom staff and will link up with Brunel’s squad on Wednesday ahead of their rematch against the Scots at Murrayfield next Saturday. 

Vakatawa’s inclusion for the finals further highlights how Fijian-born players are set to have a part to play at the World Cup in Japan with other nations. 

Clermont’s Aliverti Raka made a try-scoring debut just last Saturday for France in Nice, while other fellow Test level newcomers are Crusaders’ Sevu Reece, who started for the All Blacks in last Saturday’s Bledisloe Cup rematch, and the Rebels’ Isi Naisarani, who played with Australia. 

In nominating winger Vakatawa as midfielder Doumayrou’s replacement, Brunel ignored the recall hopes of Mathieu Bastareaud, the biggest big-name casualty when the 31-strong French squad for the finals in Japan was originally selected in June.    

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Bastareaud has instead linked up with Lyon on a short-term deal for the duration of the World Cup before packing his packs for the 2020 MLR season with Rugby United New York.    

WATCH: Mathieu Bastareaud’s post-MLR career may already be decided

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Jon 9 hours ago
Why Sam Cane's path to retirement is perfect for him and the All Blacks

> It would be best described as an elegant solution to what was potentially going to be a significant problem for new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson. It is a problem the mad population of New Zealand will have to cope with more and more as All Blacks are able to continue their careers in NZ post RWCs. It will not be a problem for coaches, who are always going to start a campaign with the captain for the next WC in mind. > Cane, despite his warrior spirit, his undoubted commitment to every team he played for and unforgettable heroics against Ireland in last year’s World Cup quarter-final, was never unanimously admired or respected within New Zealand while he was in the role. Neither was McCaw, he was considered far too passive a captain and then out of form until his last world cup where everyone opinions changed, just like they would have if Cane had won the WC. > It was never easy to see where Cane, or even if, he would fit into Robertson’s squad given the new coach will want to be building a new-look team with 2027 in mind. > Cane will win his selections on merit and come the end of the year, he’ll sign off, he hopes, with 100 caps and maybe even, at last, universal public appreciation for what was a special career. No, he won’t. Those returning from Japan have already earned the right to retain their jersey, it’s in their contract. Cane would have been playing against England if he was ready, and found it very hard to keep his place. Perform, and they keep it however. Very easy to see where Cane could have fit, very hard to see how he could have accomplished it choosing this year as his sabbatical instead of 2025, and that’s how it played out (though I assume we now know what when NZR said they were allowing him to move his sabbatical forward and return to NZ next year, they had actually agreed to simply select him for the All Blacks from overseas, without any chance he was going to play in NZ again). With a mammoth season of 15 All Black games they might as well get some value out of his years contract, though even with him being of equal character to Richie, I don’t think they should guarantee him his 100 caps. That’s not what the All Blacks should be about. He absolutely has to play winning football.

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