Fri, Jan 02, 2009 - Page 19 News List

Ex-French rugby stars ready for first Dakar experience


Former French rugby stars Christian Califano and Philippe Bernat-Salles are ready for the grueling demands of the Dakar Rally when they make their debuts tomorrow.

Califano, 36 and capped 72 times by France, is competing in the motorbike race and came sailing through the final administrative checks on Wednesday.

Califano, who was a stalwart of the great Toulouse team of the 1990s winning six titles and the 1996 European Cup before becoming the first French player to compete in the Super 12 when he signed for the Auckland Blues, is a motorbike fanatic and undertook lessons from two-time Dakar winner Cyril Despres.

“I am living a dream come true,” he said.

“I am feeling very humble. My target is to get to the finish and nothing more than that,” added Califano, who was celebrating New Year with nothing stronger than a bottle of water.

Bernat-Salles — who was capped 41 times and was a member like Califano of the squad that reached the 1999 World Cup final — is taking part in the car section but the 38-year-old is part of the same team “100% Sud-Ouest.”

The Dakar has a habit of attracting people from other sports with former French skier Luc Alphand winning in 2006.

The grueling two-week race has been switched from Africa to the relative stability of Argentina and Chile after last year’s edition was canceled because of security fears.

It was the first cancelation in the history of the race and was sparked by the murder of four French tourists in Mauritania.

The race runs till Jan. 17 and sees the competitors cross Argentina and Chile before returning to Buenos Aires for the finish.

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