Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Benazzi's Giant Task for Sarries

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Benazzi's Giant Task for Sarries

Article excerpt

Byline: BARRY NEWCOMBE

IF Francois Pienaar and his Saracens are to make anything meaningful of the season - and they are not promising too much - it might all hinge on the talents of the biggest French player in the Zurich Premiership, Abdelatif Benazzi.

Benazzi brings the experience of 78 caps for France to Saracens and Pienaar did not hesitate in making him captain. But the first match against London Wasps did not work and Benazzi almost dare not lose when Gloucester bring their French connections to Vicarage Road on Saturday.

Benazzi's old team-mate Philippe Saint-Andre runs Gloucester and although he has compiled something of a league of nations he insists: "It is important that all of our players, whether they come from Gloucester, South Africa or Fiji, have come here not for a holiday but to wear the cherry-and-white jersey."

Benazzi might not have come across Gloucester's new flyhalf Ludovic Mercier, who is from the Aurillac club in France, but as the man can kick 80 metres with his left foot and land goals as well, Saracens will have to be concerned about him.

"Gloucester will be more than difficult because they have an exceptional goalkicker," says Pienaar, Saracens' director of rugby.

"They also have a strong centre in Alessandro Stoica. We tried to get him to come to Saracens a while ago."

Benazzi, at 6ft 6ins and 18st, still considers he could do a job for France at the age of 33 and Saracens have said they would release him.

Pienaar has good reason to remember Benazzi at international level because the Frenchman came so close to scoring for France against South Africa in the 1995 World Cup semi-final in Durban.

Pienaar, then the South African captain, remembers: "I thought Abdel was going to score the try which would put South Africa out of the World Cup. We all dived in and when we came up we could see that he had not reached the try line."

Now the World Cup opponents are working together and Saracens, fifth in the league last season, have to bed down in the first month of the season. …

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