Can Brunel change French dynamic in five weeks?

French rugby president Bernard Laporte has asked Jacques Brunel to “create a new dynamic” for French rugby just five weeks ahead of the Six Nations opener with Ireland in Paris on February 3.
Can Brunel change French dynamic in five weeks?

But there remains some disquiet in France that it is Laporte himself who wields too much influence on the dynamics around Les Bleus.

Laporte yesterday revealed the historic decision to dispense with the services of Guy Noves, the first time the French federation has sacked a head coach. And Laporte has opted for former Italy boss Jacques Brunel in Noves’ place. Brunel (63) will leave his current role as Bordeaux Begles coach after Saturday’s Top 14 clash with Stade Francais.

Although Noves is France’s most successful club coach — leading Toulouse to four European Cups and 10 French league titles — he endured a torrid two-year spell in charge of his country, managing just seven wins from 21 matches.

France finished above only Italy in last year’s Six Nations and a poor run of results in the autumn internationals was the final straw for Laporte — Noves’ side lost to South Africa, twice to New Zealand and drew with Japan.

“I wish it had lasted all the way to (the 2019 Rugby World Cup in) Japan with Guy and his staff but at some point, something had to be done,” FFR president Laporte said in a statement announcing the chance of coach.

“We could not stay that way anymore and we took our responsibility. This is a painful situation for him and for us but we could not continue like this.

“Several people could have aspired to (the job) but I know Jacques Brunel well. He has the experience. He is the person who can shoulder this heavy responsibility.”

Noves was informed of the decision on Tuesday. Laporte added: “We sensed that he was on the downward slope, we want to get back to the France team that wins. The decision was taken recently. I didn’t take it alone, we consulted everyone.

“The goal is for the France team to win, to transmit emotions to the fans and to fill the stadiums again.”

The FFR struggled to sell out the Stade de France for the November meeting against South Africa or Racing 92’s U Arena for the draw against Japan, when supporters whistled the team.

Brunel was France forwards coach from 2001 to 2007. During that spell, France won the Six Nations four times — including the Grand Slam in 2004. As a club coach, Brunel guided Perpignan to the French title in 2009.

“I’ve known him for a long time. I know his professionalism, his commitment, his passion,” Laporte said. “He understands the international level. He has experience, he has broad shoulders.”

Laporte wants Brunel to “bring order” to this crop of young French talent, playing down fears the new man (63) is too old to motivate the latest generation of French stars.

“I hope that this generation in France is able to win,” he told L’Equipe. “The generation difference is not an excuse or a problem. Bayern Munich (in football) took a coach who is 74 years old (Jupp Heynckes, actually 72). Great managers adapt. Brunel and Noves are capable of training 20-year-olds.”

Ireland will be wary of the new boss’s influence — Brunel’s Italy beat Ireland in Rome in the 2013 Six Nations.

But not everybody in France expects a chance of manager to have a dramatic impact on the team’s fortunes.

“The malaise is deep and it lasts for several years,” Serge Blanco told France Info. “We must not only change the coach.”

Blanco had long warned of the enmity between Noves and Laporte, previously calling it a “story that is tearing French rugby”.

According to Blanco, during Laporte’s campaign to head the FFR, he frequently indicated his first decision would be to dismiss Noves, who was appointed by Laporte’s predecessor, Pierre Camou.

Laporte is in some credit in France, having landed the 2023 World Cup, but former Racing 92 coach Pierre Berbizier is among those concerned about his heavy influence on the management of the France team.

“Do you know the president of the British or New Zealand federation? Politics has taken precedence over the sportsman and it is the whole status of the coach who is devalued.”

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