Rugby World Cup
Lakafia relishing home environment
ESPNscrum Staff
September 8, 2011
France's Dimitri Yachvili spots team-mate Raphael Lakafia, France training session, Marcoussis, south of Paris, france, June 30, 2011
Lakafia will hope to make an impact against Japan on Saturday © Getty Images

France's Raphaël Lakafia sports a tribal tattoo on his arm and he is looking forward to starting his World Cup campaign in familiar surroundings.

The tatto is to do with his ancestry, to which he feels even closer since arriving in New Zealand. This impressive 22-year-old No.8 plays for Biarritz, but his grandmother was from Samoa and his father, Jean-Paul, from New Caledonia.

"I am really very happy to be here," he said. "The last time I was in this region was 10 years ago, in New Caledonia. I am proud of my origins. I know that my family is also proud of me. In New Caledonia, they watch all my matches on TV. And I think of my family who live afar before each match."

Sport has always taken centre-stage in the Lakafia family. His father was a two-time French javelin champion and competed in the 1984 Los Angeles Games, finishing 12th. He was 23 - the same age as Raphaël is now, in his first Rugby World Cup. His eldest brother, Pierre-Gilles, is also a professional rugby player, for Castres, and his mother, Laurence, a talented discus thrower.

"My brother and I, when we were kids, did a little bit of throwing. But it was mostly for fun. My father watched a little bit of rugby on TV. I remember the 1995 RWC. He cheered for all the Pacific nations."

The two brothers started to play rugby almost by chance, when Raphaël was 13. "One day a friend asked us to go to a rugby tournament with him. We had never played rugby before. After the first match, we were told not do any forward passes.

"We thought, 'What a crazy sport'. My brother was very good, he would run over the whole field, but I was quite bad. I was tall, but didn't have the same physical strength as I have now."

Ten years on, Lakafia stands 191cm tall and weighs 115kg, and will compete in his first RWC match against Japan on Saturday. When selecting his squad, French coach Marc Lièvremont opted for the raw talent of Lakafia, even if that meant doing without Sebastien Chabal.

"Raphaël played a great season," says Lièvremont. "He brings a real added value to the team. He is a good all-rounder, especially when hitting the ball up, and he has good hands. Even if he is a rookie in the French squad, he will bring solidity to the team."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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