Major teams: Pau, Racing
Test span: 1975-83
Test caps: 55 (55 starts)
Test points: 32 (8T)
Rated alongside Graham Price as “undoubtedly the greatest tighthead prop of the modern era” by another legend of the front row, Fran Cotton, Robert Paparemborde anchored a French pack which won three Five Nations titles, including Grand Slams in 1977 and 1981.
Known as the Bear of the Pyrenees, or Patou (which translates as a big, friendly dog), this stalwart of the Pau club didn’t make his Test debut until he was 27 but was France’s most-capped prop on his retirement and set a record for scoring tries from that position too.
Respected French coach Daniel Herrero credits Paparemborde with inventing modern prop play. He was mobile but more famously used his terrific strength to devastating effect in the scrum. “He was massively strong and powerful and had those incredible sloping shoulders that made him so difficult to scrummage against,” recalls Cotton.
A judo black belt, he was a popular character who fellow prop Gerard Cholley credits as being the focal point of the France team in that era. He captained les Bleus five times. Another comrade from that pack, Jean-Pierre Bastiat, says: “He was the most accomplished prop I ever saw.”
France centre Roland Bertranne remembers Paparemborde asking the whole team to help choose a name for his daughter who was born on the day of a Test match, and they named her France.
Having spent most of his career with Pau, he switched to Racing Club in Paris for the final year, then coached them to the French title in 1990. He was also vice-president of the French Federation, while away from rugby he was a shopkeeper, a bar owner and a local councillor in Pau.
Paparemborde died from cancer at the age of just 52 in April 2001, leaving his wife Valerie, son Pierre and daughters France and Elsa.