It was the move that had the world of rugby talking outside last year’s World Cup – would the switch by Mathieu Bastareaud, the proven Test level midfielder with France, to No8 be a success? Ignored by Jacques Brunel for World Cup duty in Japan, he filled in his time before moving to Rugby United New York by temporarily moving into the Lyon back row.
Now back in the French Top 14 on a two-year deal after his one-season flirtation with Major League Rugby ended prematurely due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, speculation has already started as to whether Bastareaud will slot back into the midfield or give his No8 experiment another try.
He initially began playing for New York in their midfield but had switched into the pack with great effect by the time the league was cancelled. Now the question is will Lyon boss Pierre Mignoni persist with Bastareaud as a forward?
Speaking to Midi Olympique about one of France rugby’s most recognisable figures, Mignoni said: “I know there is a debate over his position. Many people, most of whom do not train, question his positioning and his level of fitness.
“Mathieu has not always been exemplary during his career, but when he was with us, yes. He also had a lot of courage in accepting to change positions.
“It’s a great idea, not from me, but from Patrice Collazo who wanted to test him in this position with Toulon. Mathieu has the potential to become a very good No8 and he showed it in the last month he was a player with Lyon.
“If opinions on Mathieu are divided, I don’t care. I do what the player and I want to do. It’s up to him to show that he is able to return to a certain level, to this new position.
“As a player, I would never have dared to do it! I assure you,” continued the former scrum-half. “That’s why it’s so courageous what Mathieu did. Now we have to get to the end of things and we’re going to go together.”
It was April 1 when RugbyPass revealed Bastareaud would be returning to Lyon after his short stint in New York. The American club’s owner James Kennedy had nothing but high praise for the Frenchman.
“There are two parts to Mathieu. First of all, as a human being, he was bang on, one of the best I have ever come across. Legitimately, he couldn’t do enough.
“But playing, he came in overweight. Basically, he had been on the Baa-Baas for three weeks and was working his way back into form, moving into back row. He was getting better every week.
“He was having a hell of a more effect on practice, his leadership was starting to come to the top and he was getting things simplified and cleaned up. His game against San Diego, our last game, was his best game. He was the best player on the field. He didn’t get man of the match but the stats spoke for themselves. He was definitely starting to find form.”
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