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French winger Gabin Villiere is a man in a hurry after taking the road less travelled



Shaun Edwards calls him a livewire. Raphael Ibanez calls him a warrior. Gabin Villiere just calls the shots.

ed means danger for the Irish visitors to the Stade de France this Saturday, the venue for the latest feat of extraordinary endeavour by an emerging helmeted hero after his stunning opening day hat-trick downed Italy.

Like acclaimed full-back Anthony Bouthier, the man from Vannes who accelerated to the top despite an unfashionable background, Villiere is a Norman stormin’ to the fast lane of Fabien Galthie’s World Cup plans.

From Rouen to riches, the Toulon star has a strike rate of six tries in just nine caps after not only displacing the likes of Teddy Thomas and Vincent Rattez, but rendering them dispensable too.

“Villiere is a warrior,” said French team manager Raphael Ibanez after the bonus-point win secured by the occasionally muddled France in puddled Paris.

“He is a very good finisher. He is a good example for all of his team-mates for his spirit.”

Despite being only 5’ 9” and a few pounds short of 14 stone dripping wet – 1.8m and 88kg in new money – Villiere is no lightweight.

This he amply demonstrated with the defensive counter-ruck power en route to his beautiful second score, decorated with a deft, dummied feint to kick and devastating step and shimmy.

A marriage of brutality and beauty.

“Gabin Villiere certainly is a livewire mate,” said Edwards after the game, as pleased with his player’s role in constructing the score as completing it.

“And if you look at the size of him compared to other players, you’d think he’s quite weak but he’s absolutely one of the strongest men I’ve ever come across. Pound for pound, he’s just incredible.”

Now at 26, you could say it has taken quite some time for Villiere to become an overnight sensation.

His white-helmeted Ireland counterpart Mack Hansen has undergone a similarly unheralded transformation, but he is three years younger; he does share a previous existence as a half-back, though.

In Rouen, Normandy, as unlikely a rugby heartland as Longford, the vivacious Villiere plied his trade as a nippy nine in France’s Pro D2 (second division) under the guise of one of professional rugby’s finest exponents of the trade.

It was only when English World Cup winner Richard Hill decided that his charge was taking a little too much out of the ball, that the former Lion converted him to midfield, and then the back three.

Stade Francais, Clermont, Racing 92 and Lyon had sniffed around but didn’t fancy the selfish scrum-half so they snubbed him.

When they returned to witness his transformation, this time the player snubbed them.

One of Bernard Jackman’s last acts before Grenoble’s money ran out was an attempt to snap him up but the player, also keen to finish college, was also keen on something bigger.

After being spotted by the national Sevens side, he won the player of the tournament at the 2019 Hong Kong edition.

“Rugby sevens taught me a lot,” he says. “We have to be technically clean, we must not make mistakes. I became more complete.”

It was then that Toulon snapped him up; in 2020, Galthie rewarded the remarkable rise with a Test debut and Villiere paid him back with a try.

He has scarcely slowed down since.

“He is one tough hombre,” Edwards added on the London Times Ruck podcast.

“He doesn’t look or run like an international rugby player but on both sides of the ball he is powerful.”

Not since Vincent Clerc, one-time scourge of Irish Grand Slam dreams in another decade, had a French player scored a Six Nations hat-trick.

Now another bete noire could haunt Andy Farrell’s title hopes.



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