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Didier Codorniou

Nation: France
Place of Birth: Narbonne, February 13, 1958
Position: Centre
Internationals: 31 caps between 1979 and 1985
Inducted: England v France (March 15, 2009)

The following article has been adapted from the original by Dai Llewellyn, which focused on two players. It has been changed to highlight only the selected inductee’s information.

This particular inductee to the Wall of Fame is regarded as little short of royalty, not only in his native France but throughout the rugby world. Indeed Didier Codorniou, the brilliant France centre of the 1980s, was called Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince) and embodies all that is great in French rugby.

Codorniou was a shining exemple of what centre play is all about. In France the centre is as highly regarded, even worshipped, as the fly half is in Britain and Ireland. The French want their centre to be exciting but creative: a personality on the pitch and capable of bringing a crowd to its feet. But ultimately the centre has to be selfless, a true hero, because fundamentally his job is to create tries for the wingers and the full back. Le Petit Prince did that in spades.

Codorniou, the former Narbonne and Toulouse player, was truly gifted. Blessed with a stunning pass (its timing was never less than perfect) and a blistering launch speed that would send him past the first line of defence (there was not a winger who could live with him in the crucial first 15 metres), Codorniou had great hands, fabulous distribution skills and wonderful vision. He formed a potent and legendary partnership with the greatest of them all, Philippe Sella, for an all-too brief 16 matches. 

All Codorniou’s attributes added up to the epitome of French centres, that of a creator of tries – he himself scored just five for France in his total of 31 appearances. But he was also able to prevent tries being scored. He was a great tackler and his diminutive physique, 5ft 7ins standing on a brick and 11 stone when wringing wet, belied the ferocity of his defensive capabilities.

Observers at the time called him beautiful to watch. He was invariably credited with making his team-mates shine. They most certainly did that at Twickenham, where Codorniou shared in two victories – in 1981 and 1983 – before the two teams drew two years later.

The 1981 game was the final round of matches in that season’s Five Nations tournament, and the 16-12 victory clinched the Grand Slam for the French. Two years later an inspired Codorniou, partnering Sella, helped France to beat England in the opening match of that year’s championship, although defeat by Ireland robbed them of the chance of another Grand Slam.

Codorniou had followed the France team manager Jo Maso, another genius in the centre, into the Narbonne first XV, making his debut at the age of 17. He left his hometown club in 1986 for a few seasons with Toulouse before returning to his beloved Languedoc-Roussillon in the South of France.

After retiring from the game in the 1990s he was accorded  one of France’s highest civilian honours, the Chevalier de l’Ordre Nationale de Merite. These days he is the socialist mayor of the town of Gruissan.

Article by Dai Llewlellyn


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