Six Nations Rugby | Cameron Woki – The Rise and Rise of a Phenomenon

As one of the many back rowers to come off Massy’s assembly line, he may be the best of them all when all is said and done.

The club in the southern suburbs of Paris is in France’s third division – Nationale – but has a list of youth products that most club academies would envy.

In the span of five years, Yacouba Camara, Sekou Macalou, Judicaël Cancoriet and Woki all came through the ranks at Massy before moving on and reaching the French set-up.

Jordan Joseph, two years younger than Woki, follow in their footsteps. Although his progress stalled a bit, Joseph was named World Breakthrough Player of the Tournament when France under 20 won their first world title in 2018.

Beside him in the back row was Woki, scorer of a try in the final, and he already showed he had what it took to excel at senior level.

Woki really came to the fore in the 2017/18 season, winning the Six Nations title and that world crown with Les Bleuets, while also trading the south of Paris for Bordeaux.

Woki joins a team known for playing elaborate rugby but regularly missing out on the play-offs, and was part of an overhaul under coach Christophe Urios.

The former boss of Oyonnax and Castres had a reputation for adopting a conservative style – very successful – but adapted it in Bordeaux and led to the play-offs and the top of the Top 14 for the first time this season.

Woki, along with fly-half Matthieu Jalibert, has been as important as any player in that rise. The flanker made his debut for the squad at the end of 2017, with Jalibert making his first league start at fly-half as they came to a point of beating Toulouse on their own patch.

He made 15 starts for them as a teenager and when Fabien Galthié took charge of Les Bleus for the 2020 Guinness Six Nations, it was no surprise to see Woki called up to the seniors for the first time.

His talents were obvious. Not as fast as Macalou – arguably the fastest striker in international rugby – but still much faster than the average rear rower, while his lineout capacity is virtually unmatched.

Bordeaux teammate and former Australian Kane Douglas explained why Woki is such a weapon on the lineout.

In the French Rugby Podcast, he explained: “He absolutely has to be the best jumper I’ve ever seen. Maybe there are guys out there who can read a lineout better, but it’s so bouncy and you can just throw it.

“I saw in training that the whore threw the ball to the back of the lineout, Woki was in front and he just hit him on his way there. You can throw it, it is so light and bouncy with long arms.”

That lineout ability was evident in 2020 at Twickenham in the Autumn Nations Cup final. Woki took on Maro Itoje and Jamie George, arguably the most reliable lineout combination of the last decade in the Northern Hemisphere, and stole two lineouts while claiming three more French pitches in a brilliant display.

Cameron Woki Itoje

While Les Bleus lost in extra time, it was a fine way to end his first year of international rugby.

But after his debut from the bench against England in Galthié’s first game, he had to wait for his team to face competition in the French back row.

A performance limit in November 2020 opened the door for that Twickenham show, while it was last summer’s tour of Australia, where France traveled without the Top 14 finalists and a host of other regulars, giving Woki his place at the top. side reinforced.

He played a leading role as France won their first test match against the Wallabies in 31 years and came desperately close to winning the series. His all-action demonstrations clearly won over the coaching staff.

In November, he started the opener against Argentina on the back row, playing all 80 minutes in a 29-20 win.

The following week, news came of a move to the second row, a position he’d never played before, and a move that raised eyebrows at Bordeaux.

He impressed enough in the win over Georgia to keep his spot against New Zealand and put on a sensational display in the 40-25 win over the All Blacks. Crucially, despite being on the light side for a rear rower, he held up in the scrum and didn’t look undersized in the tight.

Cameron Woki All Blacks

At club level, he remains a flanker, but even Urios admitted he was surprised by how well Woki had managed to establish himself on the international stage.

The question now is whether the 23-year-old’s long-term future is in the second or back row.

One kind of response came from the fact that six specialist locks were selected in a squad of 42 for the Guinness Six Nations, with Galthié going on to explain that Woki is considered a flanker at this stage.

That doesn’t mean Woki’s days in the second row are over, whether during a match or from the start. But in the 2022 championship, he will start back row earlier.

While skipper Charles Ollivon is injured, Toulouse pair François Cros and Anthony Jelonch, along with Grégory Alldritt, offer plenty of competition for Woki.

But given everything he brings to the table, both in set-piece and open play, the question will likely be what’s the best combination to fit around Woki.

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