Mighty Emmanuel Meafou issues England warning after ‘emotional’ France debut

Emmanuel Meafou made his France debut in the win over Wales  (Getty Images)
Emmanuel Meafou made his France debut in the win over Wales (Getty Images)

It was a terrifying sight. It was about an hour after France rugby had completed their crush of Wales, the might of the monsters of men that they can deploy in their tight five ultimately the difference, and the assembled press waited in mixed zone in the bowels of the Principality Stadium hoping for a chat.

Out of the French dressing room squeezed Uini Atonio and Emmanuel Meafou, a combined 300kg lumbering down the steps, smartly clad in matching blue suits like the bruising bouncers of the most exclusive club in Paris. Soon after came Romain Taofifenua, another colossus, and brother Sebastien, a littl’un by comparison, clutching a whole crate of Heineken in his left hand.

It was a reminder of what Wales had been up against. Warren Gatland’s young side have many great qualities but simply lack for sheer mass and gainline stopping power; against men of this magnitude, perhaps they never had a hope of holding firm.

“We rely on those big ball carriers,” Meafou explained, the behemoth having been collared for a chat by a braver (and bigger) colleague. “But we also have those quick backs that can finish off the hard work that we put in.

“I think teams are underestimating the boys and if we can get that front-foot ball and go-forward, we’ve got the quality to finish it off. If we keep playing like we did tonight and fix up a few defensive errors, I think we’ll go a long way.”

The mighty Meafou had impressed on debut, as anticipated. Perhaps no player has developed a more feared reputation outside of international rugby recently, the new France cap a vital part of Toulouse’s dominance in the last three years. A man mountain with soft edges, the 25-year-old is an outstanding breakdown operator and offloader, showing glimpses of distributing his talent with a neat pull-back pass in the build-up to Gael Fickou’s try.

Emmanuel Meafou (right) is the latest colossus deployed by France (Getty Images)
Emmanuel Meafou (right) is the latest colossus deployed by France (Getty Images)

France don’t lack for tighthead locks. Paul Willemse has been a stalwart for a long period, with the elder Taofifenua embracing a crucial bench role to provide an 80-minute punch for Fabien Galthie. Posolo Tuilagi has impressed in his debut championship, and might have featured at the Principality but for illness; at 19, time is most certainly on his side.

But Meafou is seen as something special. In the build-up to the World Cup, the French federation allegedly attempted to rush through his citizenship to try and make Meafou available to bolster the ranks for their home tournament – fortunately for their foes, it was not until 9 November that the paperwork was finally complete.

The start of the Six Nations brought more frustration, a knee injury ruling the lock out of the first three rounds. But that meant extra time at home with wife Jada and son Marcellus, born on Christmas Day, who was able to make it to Cardiff to watch Dad on debut.

“Tonight was awesome,” Meafou gushed. “It was emotional, but to have my wife there and my son, I couldn’t think of a better first cap. I missed out on the World Cup, which was fine with me, because I got to spend time with my family. I missed out on the start of this Six Nations but I got to spend time with my newborn son. It’s all been good timing.”

Meafou has had to wait for this international chance. Born in New Zealand to Samoan parents, his family relocated to Australia when he was a toddler, first to Sydney, then up to Queensland. A rugby league player in his youth, Meafou switched to union at 16 and soon developed a reputation as a raw, rising star, but Australian coaches couldn’t figure out how to get the best out of a rare physical specimen. With no professional contract offers Down Under, a flirtation with the NFL was followed by his agent sending footage around to a number of French clubs; Toulouse jumped at the chance to add the second row to their academy.

Emmanuel Meafou has been excellent for Toulouse (Getty Images)
Emmanuel Meafou has been excellent for Toulouse (Getty Images)

How he has thrived since, three Top 14 crowns and a Champions Cup an already impressive palmares with plenty more to come. “They’ve embraced me and the kind of player that I am, not tried to change me” Meafou says. “They know what I’m good at and have tried to make that better. I haven’t really got that before in the past teams that I’ve played with.

“Coming to Toulouse, the French people and French rugby have embraced me. It’s something I’ve really fallen in love with. To be French and to represent this country means the world to me and to my family.”

It will require something extraordinary for France to snatch the title against England, Galthie’s side needing Ireland to be left pointless by Scotland and overturn an enormous points difference disadvantage. There’s every chance, then, that the encounter with Steve Borthwick’s side is a shootout for second – and Meafou has warned a side riding high after Saturday’s shock win to expect the French at their best in Lyon.

France will go into their clash with England on a high (Action Images via Reuters)
France will go into their clash with England on a high (Action Images via Reuters)

“We know that we are capable of great things, whether that is against England next week or further in the future. I think if we play the best of our rugby, we can beat any team in the world. We know what we’re capable of.

“There was a bit of a hiccup at the start of the competition. When you have new teams and new players, there’s always a bit of rebuilding to be done. This last England game, it’ll be very important for us to just put our stamp on it and say, ‘we’re here, we’re not going anywhere’. The World Cup is behind us now and we’re ready to move forward."