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The greatest opensides of all time: Jean-Pierre Rives

Jean-Pierre Rives of France Rugby World

The seemingly constant bloodied face of France's openside flanker Jean-Pierre Rives, is a testament to his commitment to the sport

Sep 14, 2016 11:07 AM EDT

Major teams: Toulouse, Racing
Country: France
Test span: 1975-84
France caps: 59 (59 starts)
Test points: 20 (5T)

Nicknamed Casque d’Or – Golden Helmet – Rives was the star of French rugby in the 1970s and 1980s and became one of those rarities in the world of rugby: a player who was famous beyond the sport.

Rives captained France a then record 34 times, playing alongside Jean-Claude Skrela and Jean-Pierre Bastiat in a legendary back row. His style was the very essence of what was seen as the typically French mode: gloriously free-spirited, unpredictable and entertaining. He only wanted to drive a maul to one place – right out of the game. As he told the Irish Independent in an interview last year: “The ball is the star. People want to see the ball. Kids want to see it being passed.”

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Born in Toulouse on New Year’s Eve 1952, Rives was considered too small to be a top-class openside as he never reached 6ft, but his tremendous bravery and seeming ability to be everywhere on the pitch at once saw him win his first cap when he was only 22.

He helped France win a Grand Slam in 1977, led them to arguably their finest victory of all time as they beat New Zealand 24-19 at Eden Park on Bastille Day in 1979, and won a second Grand Slam in 1981.

France’s Player of the Year in 1977, 1979 and 1981, he was finally forced into retirement by shoulder problems in 1984, but the honours kept coming as Rives was given the Order of the Legion of Honour in 1986 and the National Order of Merit in 2009.

He has found new fame as a sculptor and artist, exhibiting across the world. Google him and you will find as many references to that as to his rugby.

He maintains some connections with the game, as he was involved in the World Cup in France in 2007 and he created the Giussepe Garibaldi Trophy, which is awarded annually to the winner of the Six Nations match between France and Italy.

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