French rugby great Andre Boniface, epitome of ‘French flair’, dies at 89

Andre Boniface, one of French rugby’s greatest players in the 1950s and 1960s, died in Bayonne on Monday at the age of 89, his family told AFP.

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The epitome of French flair, Boniface’s career was inextricably linked with that of his younger brother and often centre partner Guy: together they epitomised the notion of ‘French flair’.

Andre made the first of his 48 international appearances in 1954 with the last of those coming 12 years later in 1966, by which time he had helped France to the Five Nations title on four occasions.

France, in fact, played 90 times during his span as an international player, showing how Andre had a knack for rubbing officialdom up the wrong way.

“It was as if he were chosen by fate to crystallise the conflicts of French rugby, beloved by the press and public, but distrusted by the selectors,” wrote rugby paper Midi-Olympique.

He also guided his local club Mont-de-Marsan to their only French league title in 1963, kicking a penalty and a drop in the tight 9-6 win over his old team Dax.

Guy was alongside him for club and country and his death in a car accident when he was just 30 was to leave Andre with “the only scar of my life”.

“When Guy died, the pair became mythical, emblems of lost talent and rugby martyrdom,” wrote veteran French rugby writer Daniel Herrero.

Born on August 14, 1934, Andre Boniface grew up in the rugby mad south-west of France, firstly playing for Dax and then joining their bitter rivals Mont-de-Marsan aged just 17.

He made his France debut as a 19-year-old in 1954 as France shared the Five Nations title with England and Wales.

A month later, his second cap marked France’s first ever victory over New Zealand, before they captured a maiden outright Five Nations crown in 1959.

Boniface was joined by his sibling Guy in the international squad in 1960. Over the next six years, they played in 24 of France’s 26 Five Nations matches, partnering at centre in 10 of them.

‘Pianist’s scales’

Their spell together at Test level was best remembered for ‘The Boni Brothers’ combining with intricate passing moves as they captured the essence of French champagne rugby.

Andre insisted that “style came from hard work, not chance”. He said passing was “a daily preoccupation, like a pianist’s scales”.

Their finest display came in Paris in 1965 when they played in the centre against Wales, who had already won the Triple Crown, in the final match of the campaign.

Andre had the game of his life while Guy scored two of the six tries as France swept to a 22-13 victory.

“The most beautiful switch passes we did with my brother were not planned,” Andre Boniface said in 2016. “They were done on instinct.

“There was a lot of improvisation. Our spirit came from that.

Andre Boniface was captain of Stade Montois when this picture was taken in January 1954.
Andre Boniface was captain of Stade Montois when this picture was taken in January 1954. © Staff, AFP

“It displeased some people who wanted to close us into preconceived ideas,” he added.

The pair played their final France game together in 1966 when they unfairly took the blame for a 9-8 defeat.

Tragedy then hit the Boniface family and the wider French rugby public when the car that Guy was travelling in hit a tree on January 1, 1968.

In 2011, Andre was inducted into World Rugby’s Hall of Fame.

Nine years later, Mont-de-Marsan’s home ground was renamed Stade Andre-et-Guy-Boniface.


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