| 7.4°C Dublin

Hugh Farrelly: Four years ago Fofana admits he was fat and lazy -- now he's a lethal weapon

Close

Wesley Fofana

Wesley Fofana

Wesley Fofana

IT may be hard to fathom now, but when Wesley Fofana first trotted out for training in Clermont in 2008, Aurelien Rougerie thought he was too fat to make it at the Top 14 club -- let alone become a Six Nations star for France.

Fofana has made a sensational start to his international career, scoring a try on his debut against Italy at the start of last month and another, after running a superb line to wrong-foot the Scottish defence, in Murrayfield last weekend.

Rougerie was alongside him in the centre on both occasions and has become a mentor for the 24-year-old for club and country, but, when the Parisian arrived from Paris Universite four years ago, the Clermont captain was less than enthused.

"If you had told me then that he would play in the Clermont senior team, I would have been very dubious. If you told me he would star for France, I'd have laughed," said Rougerie this week.

"He was chubby when he came to Clermont, but one of the most admirable things about him is how he adapted. He put in the physical work because he knew it was needed. It has been an amazing transformation and you seem him shirtless today and he is Wesley Snipes."

Fofana makes no attempt to hide from his previous size and accepts that he was nowhere near the condition required for a professional rugby player at that time.

Cramping

"When I arrived in Clermont, I was pretty lazy, not a fan of work at all," said Fofana. "I was 21pc body fat and I used to suffer from cramping in games a lot."

As well as team training, Fofana used to work on his own, going on long runs with his dog -- a Boxer named Lazer -- and says he became obsessed with getting into shape.

"I knew I had to work at it and I did a lot of speed work, a lot of endurance and now my body fat is 8pc. I became manic about training and now I like to run and can recover more quickly."

On Sunday, Ireland's midfield of Gordon D'Arcy and Keith Earls are charged with containing France's latest find and, although like the Irish pair Fofana is not the biggest centre in the game, his pace, change of direction and handling skills make him a game-changer for Philippe Saint-Andre's side.

Leinster coach Joe Schmidt knows Fofana well from his time as Clermont backs coach and admires him as an individual and as a player.

"Wes is a really good kid. He is a nice bloke, popular and smart. He would often quiz me because he was trying to learn a bit of English," recalled Schmidt.

"Most of his early games were on the wing for us, which would demonstrate the level of his speed, but he has got a really nice passing game and he has actually got quite a nice shortkicking game that he can go to as well -- that hasn't been seen yet.

"As he showed last weekend, he has an ability to hit nice hard lines and also to just drift with the pass onto the ball and try to get the outside break -- those were the things we saw that made him an outstanding prospect.

"He was great to work with," added Schmidt. "He really tries to do what you're looking for as team and fit in with the team rather than make independent, individual plays.

"He used to drift in and out a little bit as a young guy, but I think a lot of young guys are like that and he has got a lot better in his all-round involvement."

Schmidt says that while his relative lack of size could single him out for big carriers running at him, Fofana's compact strength and determination mean he is no soft touch in defence.

"He is quite powerful and pretty effective if somebody is running directly at him and he would make sure that if he didn't dominate the collision he would certainly hang in there and finish the tackle off," said Schmidt.

"Defensively, you have to stay really well linked and make sure you don't get separated because he changes direction and accelerates very quickly. If you get any sort of gap or dog-leg in your defensive line he can expose it, so the key thing is to stay connected.

"He has got a nice fend and will ride his way through a tackle, but I wouldn't say he is a massive tackle-buster in the way that maybe a Jamie Roberts or Rougerie might be.

"It's when he gets into a bit of half-space that he is really difficult to contain."

Irish Independent