Despite criticism of being selected in France's squad, South African-born Antonie Claassen insists that his heart belonged to the French.
South African-born Antonie Claassen insisted that despite criticism of his being selected for France's squad for the Six Nations match with England his heart belonged to the French.
The 28-year-old flanker, who moved to France in 2007, first playing for Brive before moving to Castres, was a surprise pick by coach Philippe Saint-AndrÃ© on Monday.
However, Saint-AndrÃ© – desperate to get France off the mark after two defeats, against Italy and Wales, and stave off talk about a first wooden spoon for the French since 1957 – opted for the highly-rated South African.
“I let it slide,” said Claassen about the criticism that greeted his selection, the first South African-born player to be named in a French squad since centre Brian Liebenberg in 2003.
“I tried not to read too much of the press this week. Of course it puts a bit more pressure on me, that is normal.
“But I received plenty of messages, on Facebook, Twitter or my mobile phone from France and South Africa. I understand that it gets people talking. Yes, I am South African but my heart is here and I am going to give everything for the country, I am going to play to my limits.”
Claassen said that he had received a gentle ribbing over how he was going to address the French national anthem.
“The Marseillaise? I know it by heart, don't worry,” he said.
“I was the subject of teasing in the Castres changing room because of that. I don't know who, but someone stuck the words onto my locker. It made me laugh.”
Claassen said that his call-up was still sinking in.
“I am very proud. It is an honour. It is extraordinary to be here,” he said.
“It was a pretty crazy week. When I arrived in France, it wasn't for the money or the contract.
“It was just to discover the country, to play here. It is a huge day, five-and-a-half years after my arrival in France, I find myself in the French squad.
“When he (Philippe Saint-Andre) told me that I was in the 23 I said that I was ready.
“I still do not believe it, it is magnificent. You always dreams of this day but I never thought it would arrive so quickly. Now it is for me to do the job.”