French expat follows in his father's boot steps
TOBY ROBSON IN NEW PLYMOUTH
French No 8 Antonie Claassen walked proudly in his father's sprig marks as stories heard during his childhood took on a new dimension during the third test against the All Blacks.
Thirty-two years after Springbok captain Wynand Claassen led his side on to Yarrow Stadium for the third match of the infamous 1981 tour, his son completed an unlikely circle in the Tricolores.
"I grew up with all the history.
"I knew exactly what it was about and when they toured here everything that happened," France's loose forward said after gaining his fourth test cap.
"Coming back here with the French team - it's just amazing.
"It's special and something I will never forget in my life.
"Dad just said just go and enjoy it. He said he played a game here at the time here, he remembered the field and the [Taranaki] players. It's been a pretty cool [week]."
The Durban-born 28-year-old can remember listening as a child around the braai (barbecue) to the recollections of his father's Springbok team-mates about the controversial 1981 tour.
"This brings back all those memories and all the stories I heard growing up from his friends when the team used to get together," he said. "The guys told stories and it brings those memories to me . . . to come back here 32 years later and to play against the All Blacks is something amazing."
The 1981 Springboks beat Taranaki 34-9 in the third match of the tour, a week after the match in Hamilton had been cancelled due to protesters invading the pitch.
The Castres loose forward has played in France since 2007 but said his father's history meant the All Blacks held a special place in his mind as the ultimate opponent.
"Waking up early in the mornings . . . in those days the test matches were 4am or 5am in South Africa and Dad used to wake me up and we'd watch the games against the Blacks," Claassen said. "It doesn't matter [that it's not the Springboks].
"I've been in France for six years now and my heart is French . . . and I'd give anything for this jersey and this country."
And though Saturday night's test was the 35th match of this season, Claassen said the French players did not begrudge the three-test series.
"I'm looking forward to the break I must say. It's been a long season back in France.
"At Castres we won the [Top 14] trophy and everything, so it's been amazing for me coming from nowhere to French champions and now to tour New Zealand.
"I think tours like this are so important. It's three tests like the old days and we really enjoy it.
"Rugby is professional, it's become a money-making business and it's a pity you have to play internationals between Super 15 matches, but it is still better [than not playing at all]."
Claassen was a stand-out for France against the Blues and believed they were not far off the All Blacks despite the 3-0 series loss. "We improved every game.
"The first test we weren't good in the lineouts and scrums but we improved. We had a good base tonight . . . but just stupid mistakes in our own half. . .
"We feel like we were so close but yet so far."
- © Fairfax NZ News