Montpellier lock forward Paul Willemse will be available for France in the Six Nations after announcing on Friday that his French citizenship had been confirmed this week.
“Yesterday morning, I saw my name in the official journal,” said Willemse at a press conference in French.
“I am very happy to be naturalized. I am now French even if I have to wait two to three weeks before receiving my passport. It’s a great moment for me and my family.
Pretoria-born Willemse, who won the Under-20 World Cup with the Springboks in 2012, qualifies for French citizenship through residency having left his native South Africa to play for Top 14 side Grenoble in 2014.
The 26-year-old also announced on Friday that he had signed a new three-year deal which would keep him at Montpellier until 2022.
“I am going to stay here a long time,” said Willemse. “In my head, I am truly French.
“The Springboks didn’t need me and I don’t need them. My life is now in France.”
The former Blue Bull is the second player this month to announce his Frenchification, following Clermont’s Fijian-born wing Aliverti Raka.
Weighing in at 135 kilos and standing 2.01 metres, Willemse has already attracted the eye of France coach Jacques Brunel.
Under current World Rugby rules, which demand a three-year residential period for a player before he can play for a country, Willemse could have played in the November Tests.
But Bernard Laporte, president of the French Rugby Federation, declared in December 2016 shortly after his election, to have “made the political decision not to play foreign players in the national team.”
Laporte insisted that possession of a French passport was a requirement for the national team.
From January 1, 2021, players will only be allowed to represent a foreign country after they have been living and playing there for five consecutive years.
Given France’s defeats to South Africa and Fiji there is every chance Willemse will make his debut in the Six Nations, making him a strong contender to go to the World Cup in Japan.
“For the moment I am only thinking about Montpellier and we will see when the squad is announced whether I will be involved in the Six Nations,” said Willemse.