Caveman Chabal, 'monument to marketing', bows out
France's lock Sebastien Chabal attends a training session at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, north of Paris on March 19, 2010 - by Franck Fife
The 36-year-old Chabal won 62 caps for France as a powerhouse lock and back row forward, winning two Grand Slams, and his last act of a 16-year career came when he turned out a final time for Lyon, his current club which he has helped seal promotion from the ProD2 to the Top 14.
Lyon beat La Rochelle 27-26 on Sunday, Chabal coming on as a substitute to rapturous applause.
Chabal was one of the best-known and best-paid rugby players in the world, his dark beard and locks catapulting him into the public eye, with a couple of notable performances on the pitch in 2007.
"I adore rugby but I'm very conscious of the efforts needed to perform at the highest level," Chabal had said when announcing he would retire earlier in the week.
"Lyon have been promoted into the elite division of French rugby, a level at which I played for a long time.
"My body and my head tell me it's time to stop. My body is suffering and my head no longer wants to make my body suffer.
"You have to know to accept when it's over. My sporting career is finished, but my life is not."
France's rugby newspaper Midi Olympique headlined its piece on Chabal: "A look, some nicknames, some adverts and a little bit of rugby: what Sebastien Chabal will be known for.
"Do the test," the paper said. "Take a random person: your grandmother, a busker on the subway or the local check-out girl.
"These people might not have a particular interest in rugby, but one name will be emitted from their mouths: that of Sebastien Chabal.
"Don't go looking for a rational or scientific explanation, it's a fact... he's the best known rugby player in France. His beard and long hair made him a public personality."
Chabal sprung to wider prominence when on tour with France in New Zealand in June 2007, a jarring tackle on Chris Masoe and breaking the jaw of Ali Williams propelling him to instant YouTube fame.
The Frenchman quickly saw his stock go up, allied with his inclusion for the 2007 Rugby World Cup on home soil. By 2009, his earnings were estimated at two million euros.
"Nobody will tell us off for saying Sebastien Chabal is not the best French rugby player of all time. The man knows it as well. He's never hidden from that," Midi Olympique continued.
The paper argued, however, that Chabal was not just a marketing man's invention: "Great tackler and defence buster, changeable in the France team between lock and backrow, a leader by example, Chabal lent something good to all the teams he played for."
Wide-selling magazine Rugby World offered a franker assessment of Chabal, firstly lamenting the fact that Dimitri Yachvili, the second-highest points scorer for France, received little attention when he announced last month that he was hanging up his boots.
"The last time Chabal was in the news for anything he’d done on the rugby field was January this year when he was banned for three weeks after knocking out Marc Giroud of Agen in a Pro D2 match," said Rugby World's Gavin Mortimer.
"It was a petulant punch from Chabal, the act perhaps of a man raging against the dying of the light. Not that the light ever shone that brightly for Chabal."
Mortimer continued: "He's never been a world-class player, even during those heady days of 2007 when France hosted the World Cup and Chabal was the face of the tournament.
Chabal "struggled to last 80 minutes of a Test match and was most effective as an impact player in the last quarter", with 29 of his 62 caps coming off the bench.
"The 6ft 4in muscleman liked to think of himself as a loose forward but at Test level he was no such thing...
"Ultimately it wasn't the big tackles that made Chabal's name, it was the big beard."
Chabal was one of the faces of the 2007 World Cup in France, but as Rugby World argued, while the retiring Brian O'Driscoll and Jonny Wilkinson are monuments to rugby, the Frenchman was simply a "monument to marketing".