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13th Apr 2023

France look for some rule bending to get 6-foot-8 lock into World Cup squad

Patrick McCarry

This would be a quite literally massive addition to the French squad.

France, through their union (FFR), are hoping to get World Rugby clearance to allow 6-foot-8, 22-stone Toulouse lock Emmanuel Meafou be selected for this year’s World Cup.

The New Zealand-born rugby star was identified as a potential Top 14 star by several French sides when he was a teenager, living in Australia. Born to Samoan parents in 1998, Meafou moved with his family to Sydney at the age of two.

He played some club rugby in Queensland and New South Wales, briefly flirted with the idea of trying to be an NFL star, and was signed up by Toulouse not too long after he turned 20. He arrived at the club in December 2018 and made his club debut the following year.

Meafou played two Top 14 games before the Covid-19 pandemic wrapped that season early. His other 2019/20 outing was near the end of that protracted season as he came off the bench in a Champions Cup quarter final win over Ulster. He has since played 70 times for Toulouse and France coach Fabien Galthie wants him in his squad for the World Cup.

The big stumbling block is the fact that Meafou was not set to be eligible to switch allegiances until the 2024 Six Nations. However, France are hoping to get this date brought forward and believe World Rugby has set a precedent with an All Blacks scrumhalf.

Emmanuel MeafouGarry Ringrose of Leinster is tackled by Emmanuel Meafou of Toulouse. (Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile)

How France hope Emmanuel Meafou can make World Cup squad

World Rugby officially changed its residency eligibility criteria from three to five years, back in 2022. By that logic, Emmanuel Meafou – all 317 pounds of him – would have to wait until 2024 to play for France.

The 24-year-old could also play for Australia, and has been contacted by Wallabies (and former England) head coach Eddie Jones. However, it is his intention to declare for France and play for them as soon as possible.

According to Charles Richardson, writing for The Telegraph, the FFR hope that World Rugby allowing scrumhalf Folau Fakatava to make his Test debut against Ireland, in the summer of 2022, has set a precedent. The Tongan, who plays Super Rugby for Highlanders, was retrospectively cleared to play for the ABs, rather than serving out that five-year spell.

“I would love to play for France,” he said. “There’s a lot of paperwork being done in the background but, as of now, I’m not eligible for France for the World Cup. I definitely will be eligible for 2024, for the Six Nations, but not right now. There is a lot of paperwork happening, though, with the rule change from three years to five years, exactly the same situation [as Fakatava], and we’re trying to get that to pass. We’ll see if that changes.”

France currently have a stack of talented second rows, such as Cameron Woki, Thibaut Flament and Paul Willemse, but Fabien Galthie would be keen to add the sizeable Meafou to his pack.

Meafou has played 24 times for Toulouse, so far this season, starting 20 times and scoring eight tries. He is set to face off against Leinster in the Champions Cup semi final, at Aviva Stadium, later this month.

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