Tchale-Watchou’s dream of playing international rugby will come true when he runs out for the French Barbarians against South Africa “A” in two matches in South Africa this month. The first international will take place in Durban on June 16 and the second one in Johannesburg on June 23.
The 34-year-old Cameroon-born lock forward’s rise to the top of French rugby is a quite remarkable story.
Born to a weightlifting father in the town of Dschang on May 10, 1983, Tchale-Watchou initially showed potential as a basketball player but a chance meeting with some French rugby players at the age of 16 opened the door for the second of eight children to follow a career in rugby.
At 19 he was selected to play for Cameroon – not surprisingly at lock considering he stood 1,96m tall and tipped the scales at 134 kg – and was then lured to France.
After a few spells in the second division with a number of different clubs he found a home at Stade Francais before moving to Perpignan, where he played over 100 matches for the club, and then settling at Montpellier – where former South Africa 2007 World Cup winning coach Jake White has been in charge for three years. There he rubbed shoulders with Springboks players Bismarck du Plessis, his brother Jannie, Frans Steyn, Pierre Spies and rookie locks Paul Willemse and Jacques du Plessis.
The man they call “Pikachu” at Montpellier will now get a chance to pit his skills against some of South Africa’s best lock forwards – even though he’s already tested himself against club mates Willemse and Du Plessis.
Going up in the second row against Tchale-Watchou in the two internationals will be the likes of Super Rugby stars Ruan Botha from the Sharks, Andries Ferreira from the Lions and Jason Jenkins from the Bulls.
* Tchale-Watchou, pictured, isn’t the only player with African roots running out for France or South Africa this month.
In the French first choice team that is playing three Tests against the Springboks – in Pretoria, Durban and Johannesburg – this month, there are two players who were born and raised in South Africa, before becoming French citizens.
Fullback Scott Spedding learned his rugby at St John’s College in Johannesburg before turning out for Brive, Bayonne and most recently Clermont. He made his French debut in 2014 and has played 21 Tests for his adopted country.
Bernard le Roux, who grew up on a farm outside Cape Town, has played 26 Tests for France since moving to the country in 2010. He plays on the flank and is a regular in the Racing Metro side, which is based in Paris.
For the Springboks, veteran prop Beast Mtawarira and wing Raymond Rhule have their roots outside South Africa. Mtawarira was born in Harare and went to school there before joining the Sharks in 2006. He has so far played 87 Test matches for the Springboks.
Rhule was born in Accra, Ghana in November 1992 and became a big star for the SA Under-20 team and Cheetahs after attending high school in Bloemfontein. – Jake West