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French captain Galthie retires

Jean-Paul Couret in Sydney | November 18, 2003 10:20 IST

France's World Cup captain Fabien Galthie has officially retired from international rugby after pulling out of Thursday's third-place playoff against New Zealand.

Galthie, 34, has played in four World Cups and was acclaimed as the greatest scrumhalf in French history by coach Bernard Laporte after Sunday's 24-7 semi-final loss to England.

Fabien Galthie"We have too much respect for Fabien not to accept his decision," France's manager Jo Maso told a press conference on Monday. "We have always told him that he will choose the day he will retire."

Galthie, who has won 64 caps since his debut in 1991, helped France to a famous semi-final victory over New Zealand in 1999 and a Six Nations grand slam in 2002.

He reached another landmark in club rugby last June when he won his first French championship title with Stade Francais.

Born in Cahors, he had to wait 17 years to lift the French championship trophy. He also had to leave Colomiers, an industrial suburb of Toulouse, where he had played his first top-level game at the age of 16.

"I would have given everything to win the title with Colomiers," he said. "This club was all my life. The team was under-rated, but we had decided that our day would come."

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Colomiers reached the French championship final but, on the day, Galthie was in the stands nursing a broken knee as his team-mates lost 28-23 to Stade Francais.

"I understood that the dream was over, that our team would never be the same, and that I had to leave," he said. "Stade Francais approached me, I said yes."

Galthie's life was not easier at the international level. His first cap came as a 22 year-old in 1991 and he was selected for the World Cup campaign in the same year. That ended with a defeat to England in a rugged quarter-final. Over the next three years he played only eight more internationals.

He was initially omitted from the 1995 World Cup squad and was drafted into an injury-plagued team before the semi-final defeat to the Springboks only because he was playing club rugby in South Africa.

Worse was to come in 1999. France were thrashed 54-7 by New Zealand just before the World Cup and for coaching duo Pierre Villepreux and Jean-Claude Skrela, the scrumhalf was one of the chief culprits.

They dropped him again, only to issue another recall before the quarter-final.

Once again Galthie responded and France went on to upset New Zealand in the semi-finals in one of the all-time great matches and to become today's indispensable captain.

"We lose a great player and a great man," said Maso. "He was dreaming of winning the World Cup. It's a little death, but all former international players have been through this kind of thing, so I am sure he will overcome it."

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