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My heart is French - Claassen

17th February 2013 09:07

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Antonie Claassen

Raring to go: Antonie Claassen

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-André on Monday.

However, Saint-André - 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."

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