Summing up Mathieu Bastareaud's career is a challenge. Because it is long, complex and incredibly rich.
How can you look back over twenty years at the highest level, even if you were to fly over it in a hurry? So what can we take away from 'Basta's' career? Well, that's the magic of the boy: everyone will remember something about him. And, often, something different.
A career that began at a very young age
Some will remember the precociousness of the kid from Massy. Barely 17 and already a regular with the big boys. He had just come of age and was hoping to play for the French national team. Because if Bastareaud is a kid, with a face covered in acne and teenage dreams that go with it, he is also and above all an absolute phenomenon.
In the third division, he flies over the matches. Fast, powerful and mature, he caught the eye of Les Bleus coach Bernard Laporte. He is compared to Ma'a Nonu, the other world phenomenon, or to Tana Umaga, the captain of the All-Blacks. At the age of 18, the youngster was due to fly out to New Zealand to get his first international minutes, but a knee injury prevented him from touring. However, this has not deprived him of the immense exposure provided by the XV... and this is just the beginning.
Outstanding physique and power.
Others will remember the power of Mathieu Bastareaud. A buffalo. A colossus. A player capable of taking out three, four or five opponents with a single charge. His tackles disintegrate his opponents, his charges are unstoppable. Because his adolescent body is gradually giving way to that of an atypical player: at 130 kilos, he is both the strongest centre in the world, and certainly not the least technical of the 3/4 players in the championship. And whether in Lyon, Paris or Toulon, first in the centre and then in the third row, he destroys everything in his path. One image that symbolises this unrivalled power is his try against Biarritz with the Stade Français, after a 30-metre charge and 5 opponents swept into his path.
For some followers, it was the revelation of a phenomenon that exploded in 2009. He became a first-team regular with Stade Français and made his mark with Les Bleus under Lièvremont. His first cap for the French national team came against Jamie Roberts (1.96m, 120kg). He was voted man of the match. At the age of 21, his future looks bright.
After a complicated period in 2009, Marc Lièvremont recalled him to the French team for the VI Nations. The tournament ended with a Grand Slam.
In 2011, he signed for RCT. There, Bernard Laporte made him his main man.
With all the victories, all the titles, he is walking on Europe. Three consecutive European Cup victories as the only indisputable Frenchman. Laporte put in place a system in which he shone. As powerful and decisive as ever, he added a mental dimension. And since he won everything, since he proved that he was at international level, it was only logical that he should return to the Blues. First on tiptoe. Then as the boss.
The end of his career, however, will be unexpected. Firstly, because Bastareaud is the first French international in the professional era to change positions. He moved from centre to third row. The colossus has aged and so have his knees. Can't go as fast as he used to? Then he'll go harder. But he gets injured. Badly. Twice. And everyone imagines that the end is nigh. But Mathieu Bastareaud is not a player like the others. There's no way he's going to end up with a problem. So the native of the Var is back for one last challenge. To win one last title with the club he loved so much.
From Jules-Ladoumègue to Jean-Bouin, from Mayol to Gerland, from the Stade de France to Auckland's Eden Park, the rugby gods have probably whispered his name. Then the wind carried it from village to village, changing room to changing room, grandstand to grandstand.
An oval whisper that became a roar, a roar even. Thousands shouted his name, whole stadiums burst into flames as he charged madly. His percussion will continue to resonate long after this unique career has come to an end. No matter what we remember of the gifted kid, the terrifying destroyer, the colossus of the Rade. But no one will forget Mathieu Bastareaud, the man who shook the oval world.