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Jean Prat

Nation: France
Place of Birth: Lourdes
Date of Birth: August 1, 1923
Position: Flanker
Internationals: 51 caps between 1945 and 1955
Inducted: April 7, 2001

The story goes that when France beat England at Twickenham in 1955, their captain, Jean Prat (making his last appearance at HQ), took a leaf out of Henry V’s book.

With 10 minutes remaining, France were leading but England were fighting back. Prat, so legend has it, drew his charges around him and in what was surely one of the game’s first huddles, exhorted them: “For centuries you have put up with the bloody English annoying you. Surely you can hold them off for another 10 minutes!”

They duly did so, Prat crowning a fine record against England by landing his second drop goal of the match. No wonder the flanker was dubbed Monsieur Rugby by the Daily Express’ rugby correspondent, Pat Marshall. He certainly appeared to be able to do it all.

The master of all aspects of the game certainly did plenty when France finally broke their duck at Twickenham in 1951 – their 11th visit – scoring a try, a conversion and a drop goal for an eight-point tally.

In all he was on the winning side against England on five out of nine meetings between the two countries from 1947 to 1955, when he amassed a total of 27 points.
He also had the cheek to land a total of three drop goals, annoying for England since in those days it was hardly de rigueur for a flank forward, and a French one at that, to have that sort of ability.

It is, therefore, appropriate that Monsieur Rugby should be the first Frenchman to be elevated to the Wall of Fame at Twickenham.

“I am enchanted and deeply honoured to be the first French player on the wall,” he said from his retreat deep in the Pyrenees Mountains above Lourdes. “I have very fond memories of Twickenham. Very fond memories indeed.”

M. Rugby had all the ability going. He had an embarrassment of riches: he was a ferocious tackler, quick off the mark, with great hands, a nimble mind and that wickedly accurate boot on him.

No one has forgotten him. Whenever he goes to watch Lourdes play, however discreetly he tries to lose himself among the crowd, he is always spotted and given VIP treatment.

Age has not withered him. He was always possessed of a powerful personality and trenchant views and at 77 he has lost none of that. His thoughts on the 2001 French side were typically outspoken.

“I am a supporter of France, but I fear for them at Twickenham,” he said. “They are not playing good rugby at the moment. It is going to be a terrible game for them. They are just not equipped to deal with England. It is a pity that Thomas Castaignede is injured. He is the best attacking player in France.”

He was dismissive of the France coach Bernard Laporte’s strongly held tenet that winning is 90 per cent defence and 10 per cent attack.

“When you are defending you do not have the ball,” he said. “And when you do not have the ball you cannot score any points. Of course defence is important, but attacking is what wins games.”

Article by Dai Llewellyn


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