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'My dad used to give me a bit of cash every month just to get me through'

Les Bleus fullback Scott Spedding has developed a true passion for his adopted nation.

Murray Kinsella reports from the Vale Resort

FRANCE HAVE BEEN more than willing to provide players to interview this week, but the language barrier has meant that it’s been their foreign-born men who have been presented to speak to Irish journalists.

While the likes of France native Benjamin Kayser certainly do speak good English, the circumstances have meant we’ve been able to hear some interesting tales from the ‘project players’.

Tommy Bowe and Scott Spedding Scott Spedding is expecting a huge aerial battle tomorrow. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Like Uini Atonio, Bernard Le Roux and Noa Nakaitaci, fullback Scott Spedding has qualified to play for les Bleus under the three-year residency rule, although he is now legally a French citizen.

Anyone who has seen the video of Spedding’s emotional reaction to first being told he had been called up by France last year will probably understand that the South Africa native genuinely feels passion for his adopted country.

The Krugersdorp-born fullback attended St. John’s College, with cyclist Chris Froome in the same year. Spedding played at U21 level for South Africa in 2006, featuring in a World Cup that saw France beat the Baby Boks in the final.

After subsequently breaking through at Currie Cup level with Natal, but finding Super Rugby hard to come by apart from one cap for the Sharks, Spedding’s “contacts” helped him to secure a contract with Brive’s espoirs team.

I came over to France as a youngster, I was only 21, and I had nothing with me but a backpack,” says Spedding. “I was just chasing my dreams and eight years later to be selected to play for France, it doesn’t get much bigger than that.

“It’s been a long road, there have been a lot of setbacks and disappointments, but to finally arrive and play for a country that has given me so much: France gave me an opportunity to have a chance in this game. To represent this country is massive.”

Spedding is a slow, steady speaker. His strong jawline and wide nose are almost emblematic of the power he brings with his kicking and running games from the back for France.

He’s said to be a superb athlete, apparently well able to compete with the forwards in the gym. He may not be the most traditional of French fullbacks, but Philippe Saint-André is a huge fan of his composure, dynamism and aerial ability.

Scott Spedding Source: James Crombie/INPHO

It’s been a long road from Brive, where Spedding recalls he initially struggled.

“It was tough at the beginning,” says Spedding. “I went over and I had hardly any money to get through the month. I remember my dad used to give me a bit of cash every month just to get me through. Look, it was difficult.

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“I was a youngster and I couldn’t speak a word of French. But yeah, I suppose when you go and your back is against the wall and you’ve got no options, you seem to make a way. I stuck it out and I’m really glad I did.”

Spedding arrived into the Top 14 club at a time when Andy Goode and Ben Cohen were the senior stars, earning his stripes with the U23 team in the espoirs league before forcing his way up the ladder.

Coincidentally, he bumped into the now-retired Goode at Twickenham after the World Cup warm-up clash with England. The former out-half was a huge aid to his kicking game, explains Spedding.

After four increasingly impressive seasons with Brive, Spedding made the move to the Basque country in joining Bayonne. He embraced the fervour and passion of the locals as part of himself and his performances began to catch the eye of Saint-André.

He will join Clermont after the World Cup, having visited Jono Gibbes, Franck Azéma and the club at the end of last season. For now though, all his focus is on the World Cup.

“Obviously I can’t give it too much thought, there’s a lot going on at the moment! But it’s a massive challenge to go and join a club like Clermont.”

France Rugby Six Nations Spedding feels as français as the rest of the squad. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Spedding successfully applied for French citizenship last year and was called into the national squad for the November Tests. His debut came against Fiji, the same day New Zealand native Uini Atonio won his first cap.

Spedding has been almost ever-present since that debut, keeping the incredibly talented Brice Dulin out of the team on many occasions and forcing the Racing 92 man onto the wing for tomorrow’s World Cup clash with Ireland.

“Brice is a quality player, he’s really good under the high balls,” says Spedding. “To have two fullbacks at the back helps, we know we’re going to get served a lot of high balls.

It also helps that he’s got a good kicking game, he’s got a left foot, so that helps with our occupational kicking. He’s a class player, so I don’t think he’ll have too much problem facing Ireland on the wing.”

Spedding himself is likely to be the key defusal expert of what are expected to be numerous bombs from Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray, and the prospect of a head-to-head with Rob Kearney in the sky is very real.

These sorts of contests are ones Spedding embraces.

“Yeah, it’s a challenge,” says Spedding. “It’s always a challenge to play against the best in the world and Rob Kearney is one of the best fullbacks in the world. It’s a massive challenge for me.

“I’ve seen how he contests in the air and how he chases his up and unders. I’m looking forward to challenging myself, and yeah, I’m sure we’ll meet in the air some time.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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