The former France rugby captain Michel Celaya died at home in Biarritz on Thursday at the age of 89, his family has announced.
Celaya played for France between 1953 and 1961, captaining them to their first-ever outright win in the Five Nations and was later a member of the French coaching staff.
“My father spent nine seasons in the French team, 50 caps, 12 times captain, first Frenchman to win the Five Nations five times, two ‘small’ slams (with a match drawn against perfidious Albion),” his son Michael wrote on Facebook referring to two draws against England which denied the French a Grand Slam in 1960 (3-3) and 1961 (5-5).
“He won in every great stadium in Great Britain and Ireland, took part in legendary tours and earned the respect of his teammates and his opponents.”
Celaya, who played second row or in the back row, spent his entire club career at his native Biarritz.
He played a role in France’s first Five Nations title in 1954 although it was shared with England and Wales.
In 1958, he was made captain for France’s first-ever tour to South Africa but suffered a knee injury in the build-up and missed both Tests, giving Lucien Mias the honour of lead the French to an historic series victory.
“Michel Celaya, a great name in French rugby and the Basque country has left us,” tweeted French Rugby Federation president Bernard Laporte.
“A totemic player and coach in the France XV, he won five Five Nations in nine campaigns and dedicated his life to rugby.
“All my condolences to his family and friends.”
After retiring as a player, Celaya moved into coaching, taking charge of Biarritz and working with the French teams of Jean Prat and Fernand Cazenave between 1967 and 1973.
He also worked in South Africa and Australia.
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