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Matiu to play in honour of daughter
February 4, 2000

New Zealand-born lock Legi Matiu will make his France debut against Wales in the Six Nations championship on Saturday only a week after the devastating loss of his baby daughter Laina.

Matiu, whose towering form for his French club Biarritz earned him the call for the Cardiff clash, told France's new coach Bernard Laporte that he wanted to play in honour of the child.

Laina died aged four months last Thursday and was buried on Tuesday.

Her father joined the France squad preparing for the game at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium later than the rest of the squad on Wednesday when the team was announced.

"His calm and his control have taken us aback," team manager Jo Maso said of Matiu who has coped with the tragedy through his strong religious beliefs.

"Legi is giving us a lesson in life. I'd even go as far as to say his serenity has reassured the squad," Maso said.

"He hasn't shown any of his sadness, he simply said he wanted to play to honour his daughter. How can you not trust in him?"

Matiu, who has played in France since 1992, is at 30 the first New Zealander picked by France.

The 117-kg, 1.94-metre giant grandson of a Samoan tribal chieftain owes the honour to his strength in the scrum where Laporte is looking for a platform to launch attacks.

"Legi is a perforator, a cleaner and a superb tackler," Maso said.

"He's the man the French pack needed. Word of mouth worked because Matiu is a name that constantly comes up among those who have faced him," he said.

It is suprising Matiu has not played international rugby before apart from turning out for the French Barbarians in a victory over the touring South Africans at Biarritz in 1997.

He was in a Samoan squad two years ago but went no further. Quiet off the pitch, Matiu becomes a warrior on it.

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