France's Walter Spanghero was one of the greatest second-rows to ever play the game
Major teams: Narbonne
Test span: 1964-73
Test caps: 51 (51 starts)
Test points: 14 (4T)
“Cometh the hour, cometh the man,” said French critics when Walter Spanghero made his debut against South Africa in 1964. France were yearning for a heavy, fast second-rower to strengthen their pack. Spanghero, a last-minute choice, filled the role to perfection. He was the most mobile forward in an 8-6 Test victory against a Springbok side that labelled him rugby’s quickest 15-stoner.
Spanghero became the automatic choice as second-row partner to Benoit Dauga in the seasons leading to France’s historic first Grand Slam in 1968. Broad-shouldered with powerful legs and a lust for the ball, he had all the attributes of a dynamic forward.
In the open, he showed he was perfectly suited to the emphasis on second-phase play that laid the foundations for France’s Five Nations title in 1967 and Grand Slam the year after.
At 6ft 3in, however, he was small for a second-row; lineout play was not his forte, so in mid-career he transferred to No 8. Dauga, however, underwent the same conversion and what had been an effective partnership became a bitter rivalry.
Spanghero fell out of favour with the national selectors for two years until recalled as captain when Dauga was dropped in 1972. He inspired his charges to adopt the expansive approach France are renowned for and England suffered a spectacular 37-12 defeat.
He was thus welcomed back as a national hero and led France through the unique five-way Championship tie in 1973 before retiring to concentrate on business interests in his beloved Narbonne.
Colin Meads described Walter Spanghero as “that most docile, delightful man off the field, and in a match hard but scrupulously fair”. But it was Spanghero’s own view – that rugby was nothing without heart – that summed up the philosophy of one of the French game’s best-loved characters.